Contact tracing and TB in northern mines

One case of TB at a mine in Northern Saskatchewan has led to contact tracing going on across the country (and a couple of international cases). I find this incredibly interesting on two points.

  1. Who is affected – and if we might see more of this in the future
  2. How it is spread and if we should be concerned about potentially fatal diseases with air travel.

According to one of the medical health officers at the Saskatoon Health Region (and a fact that those of us interested in public health have known for a long time),

“TB and active TB is really a disease of poverty so there are a lot of conditions in the north, poor socioeconomic conditions, poor housing quality, people living in overcrowded conditions, people that are living in an isolated community and they don’t have as much access to health care services as we do in the south. “

She says it’s harder to control TB in Northern Saskatchewan that it is in the south.

Now increasingly mines in Northern Saskatchewan are leading campaigns to hire more workers from northern communities – First Nations especially. This is a great idea, it brings employment – there are many jobs to be filled and many people already living near the mines that are able to fill them. It saves the mining companies from flying people in from all over the country.

However, with TB also having a larger hold on northern populations it likely means more and more mine workers could be exposed to it. I think mining companies should work with public health agencies to engage their employees, explain what TB is, what symptoms look like, and provide regular access to screening.

Catching and treating one case, is not only better for that person, it is more cost effective as a whole. Also, with regular education and testing, TB becomes normal and not something to feel embarrassed about. No one wants to be the person who leads to contact tracing that goes nationwide.

Now, on my second point about if we should be concerned with how long some cases took to track down. This is a fascinating example of how diseases can travel in this day and age. Some health regions in other provinces were still only learning about the people that had contact with the person with TB a week or so ago. Fortunately, tuberculosis isn’t that contagious (in the scheme of things) – you need to breathing in the same air with someone for a number of hours.

It makes me wonder though, what if it was something that is REALLY contagious. Someone isn’t feeling well, they continue to work through it. They fly out. All the people they are working with at some point or another fly out. Those people land, say in Saskatoon, before they move on to regions across the country and internationally. Those flights have people who are then going to other destinations. It shows how the more we develop routes of travel, how lucky we continue to be.

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