World TB Day: WRHA Public Health team a key part of protecting Manitobans
By Kelly O’Brien
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Jennifer Eaglesham has known since she was in nursing school that she wanted to work in public health, specifically helping treat and prevent communicable diseases.
As a Public Health Nurse with the Winnipeg Health Region's Tuberculosis (TB) team, that is exactly what her day-to-day work entails. Jennifer works with First Nations nursing station in northern Manitoba. The larger Public Health TB Team includes 14 nurses, six of whom work with the First Nations Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) FNIHB. A Communicable Disease Coordinator, as well as physicians and administrative and support staff are also part of the group that works with FNIHB.
"My main role is to case manage people who have recently been diagnosed with TB which entails an investigation and contact tracing to see if anyone around them may have been exposed to try and minimize the spread of infection as much as possible," she says.
The team follows clients from diagnosis until the completion of treatment. One of the challenges of treating TB is the length of the treatment – clients are prescribed antibiotics, but because of how much bacteria is often present in their systems, the course is six months long- sometimes longer.
"We want people to feel supported when it comes to completing their treatment," she says. "If people are facing barriers, we're there to support them and help them manage, and we meet them where they're at," she says.
TB is a complex disease, and while treatment can be challenging, Jennifer says knowing that each day will being different learning opportunities is a big part of what she like about the job.
She says one of the most important things for people to understand is how prevalent TB remainsin Manitoba, and that it's something her colleagues in the health care system should continue to keep in mind when they're working with patients, clients and residents.
"I don't think people realize how high the rate of TB actually is," she says. "If I could say one thing to my fellow health care professionals, it would be that early detection is key to reducing the spread, so if you see someone with the symptoms – cough, fever, night sweats or unexplained weight loss – think TB and have them tested."