Humber says it’s ready in face of TB scare

Oct 17, 2013 | News

The Health Centre on Humber's North Campus. Photo by: Brian O'Neill

The Health Centre at Humber’s North campus. Photo by: Brian O’Neill

By Brian O’Neill

Humber College has procedures in place to contain and treat potential cases of tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis, an airborne respiratory disease, made news on Wednesday as a second case of the disease was reported in a Toronto school. The most recent case was at Chaminade College, a high school in North York.

The school was set to hold a meeting for concerned parents on Friday

Jason Powell, Humber College’s dean of health sciences, said strong systems are in place to fight infectious disease at the college.

“The protocol is extremely robust. It deals with everything from prevention, to the surveillance, to what happens afterwards.

“We always bring in public health to make sure that that exposure is identified, that the risks are weighed against the population and certain identifications and calls are made to people,” Powell told Humber News.

Powell said having a full service health centre on campus for staff and students is important for treating and containing infectious diseases.

Tuberculosis and the flu

Tuberculosis has similar symptoms to the common flu.

According to Toronto Public Health, symptoms include a cough lasting longer than three weeks, fever, fatigue, night sweats and unexplained weight loss.

The disease is contracted by breathing in contaminated air particles, said Frances Jamieson, a professor for the department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology at the University of Toronto.

This does not mean the disease is necessarily active, she told Humber News.

“What happens is it gets in the lungs and the immune system recognizes it, and it may just sort of stay there forever, and you’re infected and you never develop disease,” Jamieson said.

The disease has the ability to become active years later, and can also spread to other body parts.

“It can cause a pulmonary or a lung infection, but it can also cause disease anywhere else in the body because it can spread through either the lymphatic or the blood system,” Jamieson said.

There are two primary ways of testing for tuberculosis. A skin test, as well as a blood test that measures how well the immune system reacts to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, she said.

An isolated incident

While tuberculosis is an infectious disease, Powell and Jamieson both say they are not concerned about increased cases.

“It’s airborne, but it’s not highly contagious. You really need a lot of close contact with an infected individual who has the active disease to get infected yourself,” Jamieson said.

Infections are “usually isolated to those high-risk populations,” said Powell, referring to “new immigrants from another country who bring tuberculosis, unfortunately with them, the homeless shelter, people in crowded housing and lodging facilities.”

But, Powell also said, other health concerns are likely more pressing.

“I’d be more worried about things like the common flu than tuberculosis myself at Humber College.”