Possible tuberculosis exposure at Yellowknife emergency room as N.W.T. declares outbreak

Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife on Aug. 21, 2021. Two cases of tuberculosis were recently identified in the city.  (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)
Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife on Aug. 21, 2021. Two cases of tuberculosis were recently identified in the city. (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)

The N.W.T.'s acting chief public health officer has declared a tuberculosis outbreak in Yellowknife after two cases were recently identified in the city.

Dr. André Corriveau said Wednesday morning the outbreak is being declared because of the "volume of work involved" in contact tracing with the two cases.

"For that reason, because of the extent of contact tracing that will need to be done … for the purpose of our public health system and health-care system, declaring it as an outbreak just because of the volume of work that's going to be involved in following up on these cases," Corriveau said.

"I don't think the average person in the city needs to be worried."

That said, Corriveau's office issued a public health advisory later Wednesday afternoon about a possible public exposure to someone with active TB at the Stanton hospital's emergency room.

The advisory asks anyone who went to the emergency room on June 19 between 8:58 a.m. and 3:21 p.m. to call 811 (the N.W.T.'s nurse advice line) to report their potential exposure.

His office said the advisory was "for precautionary reasons only."

"If you are identified as a potential contact, do not panic. Public health staff will talk with you about your exposure and determine your risk for infection," the advisory states.

2 cases

The first case was identified about a week ago, but the person had been sick for quite some time, Corriveau said. Then, over the weekend, a second case was found and was confirmed to be related to the first one.

"And then we uncovered that these two cases were linked to a case in 2023," he said.

Given the amount of time the first person had been sick, Corriveau said there is an increased risk that there could more cases.

"So there were a lot of potential exposures," he said.

In an email, N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority spokesperson Krystal Pidborochynski said Yellowknife Public Health is on reduced services for the time being so there's enough resources to respond to the outbreak.

That means people can't book new appointments with Public Health unless they're urgent.

"Any patients who had non-urgent scheduled appointments have already been notified and their appointments have been reviewed and rescheduled, as required," Pidborochynski wrote.

Pidborochynski added the reduction began last Friday and is set to stay in place through July 8, but could be extended if necessary.

Corriveau said right now, Public Health is still conducting interviews and gathering information on potential contacts.

That includes speaking with the two patients, and getting a list of who they live with and where they have spent time.

Corriveau said TB evolves slowly in most people, often not presenting symptoms for one to two years, if at all. It also takes time to test people even after they've been exposed.

"We can't really test anybody until eight weeks after they've been exposed," he said.

An exposure also needs to be prolonged for someone to be potentially infected, usually sharing the same air in an indoor space for at least four hours, Corriveau said.

People who do test positive for TB can be treated with antibiotics.

Corriveau said the territory has seen about 25 official cases of TB in the last 10 years.