[Hpn] Fertile ground for TB
Mon, 29 Nov 2004 04:33:40 -0500
Nov. 29, 2004. 01:00 AM
Fertile ground for TB
A Toronto homeless man's recent death from late-stage tuberculosis
offers a stark reminder of the threat posed by old diseases that science
has failed to eradicate yet.
In the words of Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Toronto associate medical office of
health: "Tuberculosis is preventable, treatable and curable."
It is also deadly, and on the march. This airborne respiratory disease
has caused or contributed to six deaths in Toronto so far this year,
according to public health officials. Up to 400 active cases are
diagnosed in the city each year.
Most are immigrants from parts of the world where tuberculosis runs
rampant. These cases tend to be isolated and readily treated. But, in
the homeless population, there is a real risk of spreading contagion.
Crowded living conditions, poorly ventilated shelters, and people whose
immune systems have been sapped by hunger and hard living present a
fertile field for infection.
Even before tuberculosis claimed a homeless man's life this past week,
local health officials had begun testing staff and residents of downtown
shelters and drop-in centres for traces of the bacteria. That screening
was ordered after two shelter employees contracted active tuberculosis
in recent months.
Hospital staff have been told to "think TB" when making diagnoses.
Everyone should bear in mind that this disease is not to be trifled
with. Tuberculosis kills about 2 million people each year around the
globe. And the World Health Organization estimates there are 300,000 new
cases of multi-drug resistant TB strains diagnosed yearly.
In view of that threat, and the special vulnerability of the homeless,
it is vitally important for governments to provide more affordable
housing, ease crowding in shelters and improve ventilation. Lives depend
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