Sunday, April 30, 2006


Recently, in the course of my work, I got in contact with someone who was later diagnosed to have tuberculosis (TB). My colleagues and I had not suspected anything, I mean the person did not have visual symptoms. In my case, I met the person two or three times and they did not cough or spit and I can’t remember if we shook hands.

Anyway, soon after the diagnosis, the person was taken to an isolation centre for treatment. Letters from the City of Toronto’s Health Department were sent to all those who had been in contact with this person. The department’s instructions were for us all to be tested for the disease.

Now, those of us from Africa, Asia and such other places prone to all sorts of hard to cure diseases, were vaccinated with Bacillus of Calmette and Guérin (BCG), a vaccine against tuberculosis that is prepared from a strain of the attenuated (weakened) live bovine tuberculosis bacillus, Mycobacterium bovis that has lost its virulence in humans by specially culturing in artificial medium for years. The bacilli have retained enough strong antigenicity to become an effective vaccine for the prevention of human tuberculosis.

BCG causes the TB skin test to come out positive even if you do not have a single germ that causes the disease. So, aware of that, I told the doctor that the skin test would not work on me. Why not go straight to the chest X-Rays?

“Well, we still have to do it because that is what they (health department) want,” says the doctor. So we do the test and sure enough it is positive. I go for the chest X-Rays which come out normal, in other words - no TB.

“So, doc, now that I am clear of this thing, I guess I go on with my life, right?”

No, he says. “Because you tested positive on the skin test, they (health department) want you to take medicine.”

“But doc, you know that was because of BCG.”

“Yes, I know but they still want you to take this medicine because you still have a 10 percent chance of contracting TB and if that is the case this medicine will kill the germs, if not, it will prevent it anyway,” he says.

What the heck, I can take the silly medicine, what harm can it cause, so I think to myself but to the doc I ask: “What is this medicine and how do I take it?”

“It is called Isoniazid or INH. You take it with a vitamin once everyday for nine months.”


“Yes, that’s what it is.”

“Tell me doc,” I ask, “this kind of medicine would obviously have side effects. What are they?”

“Well, you could have hepatitis. Your liver and kidneys would be damaged.”

“And you say these people (health department) want me to take this medicine?”

“Yes. It is recommended to everyone in your situation (meaning a BCG positive, but TB negative).”

That didn’t make sense to me at all and it still doesn’t. I shudder to think what happens to those in my situation who have no presence of mind to ask the implications of taking this “treatment”.

Of course, I refused to take the medicine which had already been ordered for me. The doctor had to do the right thing (read cover his butt). He informed the health department that I had refused to take the pills. Calls were made back and forth and we reached a compromise.

I will go to the doctor whenever I have a fever, a chest raking cough and night sweats. (Who doesn’t go to a doctor when they have any of those?) Also, I should voluntarily go for chest X-Rays once each year for three years.

That to me sounds better than have my liver and kidneys damaged by medicine I clearly do not need.

However, if I had not asked, I could be taking it right? I feel a chill down my spine.