Conference secretariat for The Union against Lung Disease & Tuberculosis (TB), the BC Lung Association organizes an annual North American meeting of TB experts, the most recent in Vancouver in February 2019.
Held on the heels of the first-ever high-level U.N. meeting on TB in New York, conference delegates left hopeful recent world leader attention will accelerate efforts to fight the deadly disease.
TB has replaced HIV as the #1 infectious disease world-wide with drug-resistant TB reported to be increasing annually by 20 percent. While global health leaders look to Canada as a center of excellence in TB control it will be critical we remain vigilant if not the infectious killer could make a devastating comeback.
In 2017, reported cases of TB in Canada were up 2.6 percent over 2016, with 1,796 active TB cases. Fortunately, while drug-resistant TB is a present threat, thus far Canadian cases have been few and all were well-contained.
Vital to keeping TB drug resistance in check will be the ability to keep new drugs in the pipeline. Many pharmaceutical companies thinking the war was won against TB shifted focus to chronic disease treatment and until recently, antibiotic discovery stalled.
Fortunately, in the past five years, increased research and development investment has yielded important advances in TB diagnosis and treatment, but even greater options are needed.
Approximately ¼ of the global population has latent TB, of whom five to 10 percent are likely to develop active TB. Latent TB is asymptomatic and non-infectious, but when latent TB first activates symptoms may be mild for many months, and this may delay seeking care, and consequently result in spread of the disease.
Proving effective at treating latent TB are new, shorter, and more effective drug regimens. Disease control efforts are also benefitting from improved use of technology to map, monitor, and manage TB. And, to address TB in populations experiencing stigma and oft times untrustworthy of government health policies and services, researchers are experimenting with innovative new strategies.
"Given the way we travel today, drug-resistant TB is everywhere, including British Columbia. It's grueling, exorbitantly costly to treat, and a seriously underappreciated problem," said Dr. Menn Biagtan, VP of Health Programs and Initiatives for the BC Lung Association. "Many people think TB is a disease of the past but it is very much present."
“Effective TB control in Canada relies on reducing its disproportionate impact in foreign-born and marginalized populations,” she continued. “A key strategy is treating latent (dormant) TB before it becomes active TB and more difficult to treat.”