For a faster TB diagnosis

Tuberculosis (TB) continues to be a significant public health concern in Canada's North, where the TB rate is about 50 times higher than in the rest of Canada. Despite that, Nunavut does not have a laboratory equipped to test for the presence of TB; samples are traditionally sent to Ottawa for testing.

But this is about to change. A new CIHR-funded study, led by Drs. Gonzalo Alvarez at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Madhukar Pai at the McGill University Health Centre, has demonstrated that a high-tech testing unit, called GeneXpert, can provide a quick and accurate diagnosis of the disease. Indeed, the unit, a desktop "lab-in-a-box", successfully detected TB in 85% of cases while providing next-day results to medical professionals, whereas previously it took at least one week for diagnoses to be made in remote communities.

Thanks to the use of this new tool, Nunavut residents diagnosed with TB can now begin treatment up to 35 days earlier. Faster treatment is better for patients and reduces the opportunity for this infectious and persistent disease to spread.

Based on the study's positive results, the Government of Nunavut recently announced funding in its 2015–2016 budget to keep GeneXpert operating in Iqaluit.

Study findings were published in the March 19 issue of Chest Journal.

Video: DNA test slashes wait times for tuberculosis diagnosis in Iqaluit: Dr. Gonzalo Alvarez, Tuberculosis researcher at The Ottawa Hospital and uOttawa.

With the help of CIHR funding, Dr. Gonzalo Alvarez is also leading the TAIMA TB (“stop” in Inuktitut) study, a community-based outreach campaign that combines public awareness, testing and treatment.

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