Community guides newcomers one step away from tuberculosis

A tuberculosis discussion with two local doctors informed Chinese newcomers in Scarborough about the disease. Immediate translation to Mandarin also helped in their understanding.

Dr. Elizabeth Rea, associate medical officer from Toronto Public Health (TPH), told the audience not to fear tuberculosis (TB).

“It’s not like people catch TB in Scarborough, but it is where a lot of newcomers with a high TB rate settle down when they first arrive in Toronto,” Rea said at the joint TB information session hosted by the TPH, The Scarborough Hospital and the Centre for Information and Community Services (CICS) on Oct. 5.

Dr. Reena Lovinsky of The Scarborough Hospital told the newcomers that it is important to receive an additional TB test after arriving in Toronto, even if one was already done for the immigration application. Both doctors emphasized that all medical services related to TB are free, even to those without full Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) coverage.

According to a 2006 report from Statistics Canada, about 30 per cent of new Toronto immigrants settle in Scarborough. Almost 80 per cent of these immigrants are from one of the World Health Organization’s top 10 countries with TB patients.

Rea said the disease is curable, but fatal when patients have no access to appropriate treatment.

“The TB rate in Toronto has been dropping for many years,” she said. “Most of the patients in Toronto [are] those who caught it outside Canada, were fine when they got here, and got sick.”

She added that better diagnosis has helped decrease the rate of TB.

Two months ago, almost 90 babies at The Scarborough Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Clinic Unit (NICU) received TB skin tests after an infected nurse noticed her symptoms and stopped working, according to a Toronto Star report.

Many young concerned parents with little children asked questions about the incident and about TB’s potential impact on children. Lovinsky said all babies were tested, and are healthy now.

Rea said the nurse’s early action in getting tested for TB was the “right thing” to do. She said it was one of the contributing factors that minimized the impact on the babies.

She went on to tell the parents that their TB history would not affect their children as long as they had completed the treatment. They added that most TB medications are safe for both a child and pregnant woman.

CICS distributed a vocabulary list related to TB for those who are still learning English.
“I hadn’t known at all about TB before, but now I have basic understanding of TB when they [students] ask questions,” CICS English teacher Stephanie Varstermans said.