03/24/2012 04:49 EDT | Updated 05/24/2012 05:12 EDT

Toronto public health raises tuberculosis awareness

Toronto Public Health joined forces with the World Health Organization to raise awareness about tuberculosis this week.

Kiosks are set up at five GTA locations, including city hall, as the WHO hopes to halve the number of tuberculosis deaths worldwide.

Toronto had about 300 cases of the airborne disease last year, mostly affecting people who had been in countries where the condition is problematic.

Dr. Elizabeth Rea, with Toronto Public Health's tuberculosis prevention and control team, said most patients in the city make a full recovery with proper treatment.

But worldwide every day nearly 5,000 people die from the bacteria.

The disease spreads through coughs and sneezes and can cause fever, persistent cough, fatigue, weight loss, night sweats and chest pain.

Rea said people in Canada might get sick and not have the impression that their illness is something as serious as tuberculosis.

Toronto's Wes Gerlee was living in shelters and a rooming house in downtown Toronto about five years ago when he started losing weight, dropping to 125 pounds from 250.

Gerlee thought the dramatic loss was due to his diabetes, and that a persistent cough was due to smoking. Even short trips to the supermarket would take their toll on him, he said.

"If you're sick for month after month after month [and] you don't go and see a doctor, it will start to chew little holes in your lungs," Rea said. "So your body is using up lots and lots of energy and nutrition and resources to try to fight it."

Torontonians can get tuberculosis skin tests at their family doctor, walk-in clinics or community health centres.