There are about 100 reported cases of tuberculosis (TB) in Montreal every year.
While most cases come from people who have travelled to countries where the disease is more prevalent, it can also be transmitted here at home among the most vulnerable population.
Montreal public health is now teaming up with community organizations to make TB screening more accessible by moving a mobile medical unit into the community.
“Every year, a few cases happen in people who live in Montreal and more often in people who are vulnerable to the disease,” said Montreal public health physician Dr. Noémie Savard, adding that the most vulnerable are often homeless and suffer from chronic health problems.
“It’s important to bring the services to people where they need it.”
A mobile medical unit, set up in an 18-wheeler truck, has been parked on the east side of Cabot Square in downtown Montreal since Tuesday.
It’s an initiative by Montreal public health and local community organizations. Patients have access to a long list of services, from a general check-up to blood tests and vaccines against Hepatitis B and the flu. The goal is to detect and put a stop to the transmission of tuberculosis in Montreal’s homeless community, where cases are most rampant.
“I got tested before but it was negative,” said Heather Ravel, who said she would rather be safe than sorry. “This is the first time that it’s been here (in Cabot Square), that’s why I signed up right away and it’s kind of cool I think.”
One man explained that a community worker on the street encouraged him to get tested here.
“I’m happy because the hospital wait is too long,” said Paulo, who would rather not share his last name. “It’s easier to go there than to the hospital.”
Tuberculosis is a disease that affects the lungs and the most obvious symptom according to experts is a persistent cough.
“It’s like a pneumonia but lasts longer, comes with coughing for more than three weeks, fever, night sweats,” said Savard, adding that TB is treatable with antibiotics.
The medical staff behind the mobile unit is also working on prevention, trying to educate patients on the best ways to avoid TB transmission.
“The problem is sharing beer, sharing cigarettes, if that person has it they can give it to someone else,” said Ravel.
It’s too early to tell whether any confirmed cases will come out of this three-day initiative but put public health officials promise to be back if the move pays off.