Kimby N. Barton, MSc
Geriatrics & Aging
I have to admit that I was feeling more nervous than I had expected as I placed the mask over my face. Until this point the reality of my being about to enter a unit with patients who have active tuberculosis (TB), and are capable of infecting me with the disease, had not really sunk in. Suddenly, it seemed vitally important for the mask to form a proper seal around my nose and under my chin to ensure that no bacteria could enter any gap left between the mask and my face. Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Infection may result from the inhalation of minute droplets of infected sputum; hence the need for a sealed mask to protect me from accidentally inhaling any bacteria. Having secured the mask, I was ready to enter the inpatient tuberculosis clinic at West Park Hospital.
Tuberculosis is a devastating disease. It is suspected that TB has plagued humankind for more than 2000 years, and in fact, several reports describe Egyptian mummies, almost 4000 years in age, showing signs of tubercular decay in their skeletons! It is estimated that almost one third of the global population is infected and that there are 7 to 8 million new cases per year. In Canada, approximately 2000 new cases of TB occur each year, almost one-quarter of these in Toronto. In almost 90% of these cases the patients are recent immigrants from areas where TB is still a common problem.