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Ontario Lung Association: Tuberculosis Remains A Public Health Concern

World TB Day is March 24

Toronto, March 24 – More than 100 years since the “white plague” or “consumption” proved to be one of the world’s most devastating epidemics, tuberculosis (TB) remains a health threat both in Ontario and worldwide. Globally, TB kills two million people each year and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), one-third of the world’s population is infected with the TB germ and has latent or dormant TB infection. To raise awareness of the continued need to fight TB, WHO has designated March 24 as World TB Day.In Canada in recent years, TB incidence has been relatively stable, averaging about 1,600 new cases of active TB per year. In 2009, one-third of these cases, 580, occurred in Ontario, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area. The majority (85%) of Ontario’s active cases occurred in foreign-born individuals. Immigrants to Canada are screened for TB in their country of origin and may be referred by Citizenship and Immigration Canada for follow-up to determine if treatment is required. All cases of TB are referred to Public Health Departments that monitor treatment and trace contacts of people with active TB disease.

The Stop TB Partnership, which includes Stop TB Canada, has updated The Global Plan to Stop TB 2006-2015. The new plan for 2011-2015: Transforming the Fight – Towards Elimination of Tuberculosis, sets new targets to cut TB prevalence rates and deaths by half by 2015. The new plan identifies research gaps that need to be filled to bring rapid TB tests, faster treatment regimens and a fully effective vaccine to market. It also calls for universal access to TB care, the modernization of diagnostic laboratories and the adoption of new TB tests.

“Early and accurate diagnosis of TB is vital both for effective treatment and to prevent the spread of TB,” says Ontario Lung Association spokesperson Dr. Jae Yang, medical director of the TB Program at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. “Treatment is required for months or even years with several medications to cure TB and prevent drug resistance.”

At the national level, The Lung Association is participating on an international health team, TB Care II, in a five-year project to assist countries most affected by TB. Within Canada, TB rates in Nunavut are much higher than rates in the rest of Canada. The Taima TB Project, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada through the National Lung Health Framework, brings together the Government of Nunavut, Inuit and Aboriginal Health organizations and the New Brunswick Lung Association with experts from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute at the University of Ottawa, to fight TB in Canada’s north.

What is Tuberculosis?

TB is an infectious disease caused by the TB bacteria. It usually attacks the lungs but can also occur in other parts of the body. TB is contagious when it is located in the lungs or throat. Signs and symptoms of active TB disease are: a cough lasting more than three weeks, fever, chills, unexplained weight loss, night sweats and coughing up blood. Anyone exhibiting symptoms should seek medical attention.

Tuberculosis Treatment

Tuberculosis is preventable, treatable and curable. All medications for TB are available free of charge. Within Ontario, successful TB prevention and control requires a strong public health system and referral of TB patients to health care providers experienced in treating TB. In addition, directly observed therapy (where a trained public health observer watches the TB patient take their TB medication) helps to ensure treatment completion and prevent resistance to TB drugs. Drug-resistant TB is very expensive and difficult to treat.

The Human Impact

There is a social stigma attached to TB. Prior to the discovery of antibiotics that could cure it, people with TB disease were isolated in special hospitals called sanatoria. Many patients remained there for three to five years. Children were separated from their parents and parents from their families. If the primary wage earner was hospitalized, the family could be left destitute. Many people with TB died in these hospitals and people began to associate hospitalization for TB with death. Although the sanatoria closed in the 1970s as a result of greater access to antibiotics to treat TB, this attitude still prevails in many parts of the world. Today, people with TB may still encounter economic and social difficulties because they have to stay home from work or school and be isolated until their TB is treated and they are no longer contagious.

The Lung Association and TB

The Lung Association’s crusade against tuberculosis was one of Canada’s first public health campaigns and has been credited with laying the groundwork for today’s universal healthcare system. Death from TB has been dramatically reduced since antibiotics were discovered in the 1940s. For example, in 1930, some 80 years ago, TB caused 8,164 deaths in Canada compared to fewer than 100 in 2007.

The Ontario Lung Association’s (OLA) TB Committee produces TB resources for the public and health professionals, including the booklet: Tuberculosis: Information for Health Care Providers, Fourth Edition 2009, that provides a concise summary of TB prevention and management information, based on the 2007 Canadian TB Standards, published by the Public Health Agency of Canada and The Lung Association. TB resources can be ordered by calling 1-888-344-LUNG (5864) or can be downloaded at

About World TB Day

On March 24, 1882, Robert Koch announced that he had isolated and grown the tubercle bacillus, which he believed to be the cause of all forms of tuberculosis (TB). World TB Day is held each year in commemoration of Koch’s discovery, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1905. The World Health Organization (WHO) established World TB Day to raise awareness and mobilize support in the fight against TB.

About the Ontario Lung Association

The Lung Association is a registered charity that provides information and funding for research to improve lung health. We focus on the prevention and control of asthma, chronic lung disease, tobacco control as well as healthy air and the effects of pollution on lung health. To pledge your support for an Ontario Lung Health Strategy or for information on lung health, call 1-888-344-LUNG (5864) or visit

For further information:

Karen Petcoff
Ontario Lung Association
[email protected]
416-864-9911 ext. 283/ cellular 416-275-6844