Tuberculosis in Indigenous communities

Learn about tuberculosis (TB) and the importance of taking steps to prevent the spread of the disease.

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What is TB?

TB is an infectious disease caused by bacteria spread through the air when someone with contagious TB coughs, sneezes, sings or talks. It mainly affects the lungs and airways but can also affect other parts of the body.

TB can be either:

  • latent TB infection/sleeping TB: where TB bacteria are inactive in the body, not causing symptoms and cannot be spread to others.
  • active TB disease: where TB bacteria are active, causing symptoms and can be spread to others.


If you have active TB disease, you will usually feel sick with some of the following symptoms:

  • cough lasting more than two weeks
  • coughing up sputum (phlegm)
  • sometimes coughing up blood
  • chest pain
  • no appetite
  • unexpected or unexplained weight loss
  • weakness or lack of energy
  • chills or fever
  • sweating at night

If you are sick with any of the above symptoms, you should see your health care provider.

Diagnosis and treatment

TB is diagnosed using a combination of tests that can include:

  • tuberculin skin test
  • blood tests such as an interferon gamma release assay (IGRA)
  • sputum testing
  • chest x-ray

Both latent TB and active TB can be treated with antibiotics. Left untreated, latent TB can develop into active TB. Active TB can be fatal without medical treatment.

TB and Indigenous communities

For most people in Canada, the risk of developing active TB is very low. However, the rates of active TB are higher among Canadian-born Indigenous people. The rate of TB among Inuit in Inuit Nunangat was over 300 times the rate of Canadian-born non-Indigenous people in 2016. The TB rate is over 50 times higher among First Nations living on reserve than non-Indigenous Canadian-born people.

Factors that increase the chance of developing active TB

  • close contact with people living with untreated active TB
  • overcrowded, poorly ventilated homes
  • poor nutrition
  • food insecurity
  • having other illnesses, such as diabetes or HIV
  • smoking

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