[Hpn] TB tests identify another victim
Tue, 18 Jan 2005 08:15:33 -0500
Jan. 18, 2005. 01:00 AM
TB tests identify another victim
Seven cases have been found
High risk among city's homeless
CITY HALL BUREAU
A public health blitz has found one more case of tuberculosis in the
city's homeless population, bringing the total to seven cases following
a screening blitz that began late last year.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, who oversees infectious disease control, said more
than 4,000 people have been tested after two workers in a downtown men's
shelter were found in late October to have active cases and five other
staff members were found to have been exposed to the disease.
To date, testing has been conducted in all 26 men's, co-ed and
aboriginal shelters and in 16 of 17 drop-in centres. Six cases had been
found by mid-December.
None of the cases caught in the blitz were among shelter staff.
Public health staff will shortly begin testing at the last drop-in
centre, the new temporary shelter on Edward St., and will move on to the
women's shelter system next month.
"It's very concerning because ... we know it (homeless) is a high-risk
population both in terms of getting exposed and infected and then going
on to become sick because they're malnourished, they have underlying
health issues," Yaffe said. Yaffe said the number of tuberculosis cases
over the past five years has ranged from a low of six to a high of 24
cases in 2001.
The latest "massive, active case-finding initiative" reached about 73
per cent of shelter users and staff, Yaffe said. Homeless people were
offered TTC tokens as an incentive for testing.
A public health staff bulletin noted that case investigation and contact
follow-up was conducted for all active cases.
The disease isn't believed to pose a major risk to the general
population, but it is a deadly presence in homeless shelters.
Affordable-housing advocates have long warned city officials that its
shelters are breeding grounds for TB, because they are overcrowded and
lack ventilation, as well as readily available technology to kill bacteria.
Councillor John Filion, chair of the board of health, said public health
staff has struggled continuously to ensure there's sufficient funding to
fight tuberculosis among the city's vulnerable homeless population.
"TB's been one of those issues that we've identified just about every
year that we need to put more resources into and usually the money isn't
there. We add a little bit, we shuffle a little bit ... we do our basic
job, but we don't do it at the level we're required to by the province,"
said Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale).
"It's just one of those many areas in the board of health where you're
playing catch-up and you just hope you don't catch too many bad breaks
at the same time," Filion said.
But he said the latest blitz may become an annual event.
"Unfortunately, we need to continue (monitoring) the very high-risk
population. We need to make it more or less an ongoing item as opposed
to something we do when we have a problem."
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