Iqaluit adds wastewater monitoring in fight against tuberculosis

wastewater tuberculosis tracking team
This study brings together the key disciplines of the four co-investigators (from left to right): Jim Sun, UBC, TB-specific microbiology; Jean Allen, Senior Research Advisor at Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.; Gonzalo Alvarez, nominated principal investigator and TB consultant for the Government of Nunavut; Rob Delatolla, University of Ottawa. Photo Credit: University of Ottawa

After facing several outbreaks in recent years, Iqaluit is launching a five-year wastewater monitoring study to add another layer of detection for tuberculosis in Nunavut.

Lead researcher Dr. Gonzalo Alvarez, a tuberculosis (TB) consultant for the Government of Nunavut, said being able to reliably monitor TB levels in Nunavut’s wastewater could help target screening efforts where they’re needed most. 

“Wastewater monitoring could play an important role in helping us eliminate TB from Nunavut, and this research gets us closer to that goal,” said Dr. Alvarez, who is also a physician and scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, and an associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.

Led by researchers from The Ottawa Hospital, the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia, and partners from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), the study is funded through a $3-million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, as well as $500,000 from NTI. 

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NTI President Aluki Kotierk said that due to the disproportionate rate of TB found among Inuit, it is crucial to employ every tool possible to stop it from spreading throughout Nunavut. The wastewater monitoring for mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) will complement existing detection practices already in place such as skin and sputum tests, as well as chest X-rays. 

NTI states that TB cases among Canadian Inuit are 400 times that of Canadian-born non-Indigenous people. In 2023, outbreaks posed challenges in the communities of Pond Inlet, Naujaat and Pangnirtung.

The new study aims to use wastewater monitoring to detect TB in buildings housing people at high risk for developing TB and to link that information to public health interventions, according to NTI. The study will also evaluate the feasibility of a community-wide TB wastewater screen.

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