Tuberculosis cases are increasing in Montreal

There have been 21 new cases of tuberculosis diagnosed in Montreal in January. (Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock - image credit)
There have been 21 new cases of tuberculosis diagnosed in Montreal in January. (Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock - image credit)

Montreal is seeing an uptick in tuberculosis cases, says the city's public health department. In January, 21 new cases were diagnosed — the highest number in five years.

The public health authority says there's no clear indication this will become a trend, but it is closely monitoring the situation.

Tuberculosis cases have slowly been on the rise since 2018 and Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital, says it shouldn't be taken lightly. Tuberculosis is highly contagious and can be tricky to detect because its symptoms are similar to other illnesses — like fevers, fever, cough, general fatigue and weight loss.

Vaccines that protect against tuberculosis exist, but they aren't foolproof and haven't been mandatory for a few years, said Oughton.

According to the doctor, the best ways to mitigate tuberculosis cases in the city are prevention, early detection, contact tracing and treatment. Because tuberculosis is airborne, he recommends wearing masks. He also says frontline health-care workers need the right tools to screen tuberculosis.

"There's an old rule in clinical medicine that the moment you start wondering, 'Could this patient have tuberculosis?' You've already answered your own question," said Oughton.

About 90 per cent of cases were acquired abroad, according to Montreal public health. Oughton says most immigrants and refugees are screened for tuberculosis either in their former country or once they arrive in Canada. Community transmission most often stops within the family of the sick person, said public health.

Most people with tuberculosis don't need to be hospitalized and can be isolated and treated at home.

Oughton stresses that Canada had some of the lowest tuberculosis rates across the general population, so the increases are still minimal. But now is the perfect time to act and contain the illness.

"Investment now into early recognition, early detection and early management would pay off massively down the line," he said.

But he says he doesn't think tuberculosis should be people's main concern.

"We still have a whole bunch of SARS‑CoV‑2 (COVID) circulating out there. We certainly have issues with measles and I suspect we're still going to see that become an increasing problem in the days and next few weeks to come," he said.

According to provincial health authorities, there are 18 confirmed cases of measles in the province, 13 of which are in Montreal.