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Health Department investigating case of tuberculosis in Tacoma homeless population

Every day, we work to prevent diseases in our community. When they do occur, we work quickly to investigate and control the spread of disease. Often, you don’t hear about this quiet work because the exposure circle around the person may be small, and we work directly with those affected to make sure they get the testing or treatment they may need.

Sometimes, the circle is much larger—because of how the disease transmits, or because of a long exposure period and the number of people who could have been exposed to an ill person.

A large circle of people to investigate

Usually, when we investigate tuberculosis (TB) cases, the circle is quite small. It’s standard public health work to track down where the ill person was while infectious. We begin with the person’s home because those living with someone with TB are most at risk for exposure. We also may consider workplace exposure, schools, sport teams or leisure activities. But TB isn’t easy to get. We see most of our secondary cases in people who share living spaces.

When a person living homeless is ill with TB, our work looks a little different. We are currently investigating TB in a person who has been living homeless in Tacoma. While infectious, the person spent time at Tacoma Rescue Mission for shelter. We are working closely with Tacoma Rescue Mission to identify potentially exposed people so we can test and treat people who may need it. We may find other disease exposure sites as our investigation progresses.

People at highest risk for TB:

  • Live with a person who has active TB disease.
  • Travel to or were born in a country where TB is common.
  • Have other health conditions.

No current risk to the general public

We are working directly with the people who are at risk for exposure. Everyone else doesn’t need to worry. If you are not considered at risk for exposure but would like testing, contact your health care provider.

Bacteria causes TB, and antibiotics cure it. TB is not common, but we get about 20 cases a year in Pierce County.

In the weeks ahead, we will offer clinics for those who need to be tested. With our partners, we will create new pathways to improve the health of people living homeless. Our first concern is to make sure people at risk get tested, and if necessary, get treated for TB. We will also offer vaccinations for hepatitis A so we can prevent that disease from getting a foothold in our community.

Because identifying cases can be a lengthy process and treating active TB takes many months, we expect to be engaged in this investigation for the long haul.

As we meet this challenge to the health of some of our most vulnerable, we will learn about other health concerns of people living homeless. We will do our best to connect these community members to available resources.

Learn more and get a downloadable infographic on TB at