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Officials know source of tuberculosis outbreak

Where the first case came from is a mystery, but the majority of tuberculosis cases in the territory can be traced back to one infected person,…

Where the first case came from is a mystery, but the majority of tuberculosis cases in the territory can be traced back to one infected person, according to communicable disease officer Colleen Hemsley.

Seven of the 10 current cases are related, she said in a news conference late last week.

All 10 cases have been diagnosed since late fall 2004.

This qualifies as an outbreak, she said.

Those suffering from tuberculosis cover a wide range of ages, the youngest being two-year-old child and the oldest an adult in his or her late 40s.

The disease is not confined to one particular community either, said Hemsley.

Because of the stigma attached to tuberculosis, the communities in which infected people are living is not being released.

“There is such a stigma in the Yukon about tuberculosis, they would be treated as lepers,” said Hemsley from a hospital training room.

How is public safety measured against individual privacy?

“We protect the public by giving early treatment,” she said.

Fear is a major hurdle in treating and preventing the disease, according to tuberculosis nurse Jackie Van Langen.

“We need to talk about the stigma because people are scared to come in (to the clinic),” she said.

There were no effective treatments for tuberculosis until the 1950s.

Before that time, and even after treatment was developed, infected people were sent to sanatoriums in the South.

Many patients were transferred to Edmonton, often for long periods of time, and some died while they were away, said Hemsley.

“People remember that and they remember that with fear,” she said.

Tuberculosis patients were being transferred to southern facilities until the 1970s.

These kinds of memories make it difficult to encourage some people to come to the hospital for tests.

When some of these sanatoriums were demolished, the walls were found to be full of pills that patients had decided to hide rather than swallow, Hemsley added.

This means that many patients likely weren’t properly treated.

If drugs aren’t taken for the correct period of time, tuberculosis is much more likely to recur in later life, or when a person’s immune system is weak from other illnesses.

Caused by air-born bacteria, called mycobacterium tuberculosis, the infection may not progress into the disease.

Adults with the lung infection have a 10 per cent chance of developing the disease, which is less contagious than the flu or the chickenpox, according information on the Yukon Government website.

A person with tuberculosis is not contagious until the infection evolves into the disease.

Some of the 10 infected Yukoners have already received treatment, said Hemsley.

Workers with the Yukon Communicable Disease Control tuberculosis program are now trying to trace all people who may have had contact with the disease.

Health workers can only recommend people with the infection undergo treatment.

However, those with the disease — symptoms include coughing up blood, night sweats, fever, weakness and weight loss — can be compelled to stay in hospital for antibiotic treatment.

Anyone who may have had contact with tuberculosis is asked to contact Yukon Communicable Disease Control at 667-8323.