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Health Department monitoring Tacoma woman with tuberculosis

TACOMA, Wash.—Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is monitoring a case of active tuberculosis (TB) in a woman in Tacoma. She has declined to take medication.

We are working with her and her family to try to persuade her to get the treatment she needs to help cure the TB so she can protect herself and others.

In Pierce County, we see about 20 cases of active TB disease per year. TB infections usually affect the lungs but can happen in other parts of the body. If left untreated TB will result in death. People with active, untreated infections are contagious and represent a risk to the community. TB is curable with medication.

“Most people we contact are happy to get the treatment they need,” said Nigel Turner, division director of Communicable Disease Control. “Occasionally people refuse treatment and isolation. When that happens, we take steps to help keep the community safe.”

The Health Department has an obligation to the community and the legal authority to seek a court order to persuade patients to comply, and in very rare cases we will do so, Turner said.

Spreading TB usually requires spending extended time with a contagious person in a closed space.

Washington State Law requires healthcare providers to report all cases of active TB to the local health department. Our staff works with all patients who have active TB to make sure they get treatment to cure the disease.

We work with local partners to provide many services. We:

  • Follow up on all reports of possible TB.
  • Make sure patients with active TB are treated and cured.
  • Support people through any period of isolation if they have contagious TB.
  • Monitor for side effects to TB medications and make sure TB patients take their medications.
  • Test and treat people who are exposed to others with active TB as needed.
  • Screen new refugees and immigrants for TB and get treatment for those infected.
  • Provide testing and treatment for uninsured Pierce County residents at risk of getting TB.
  • Provide TB education to community members and healthcare workers.

TB is one of the most common illnesses in the world with around 10 million new cases every year. Rates of TB infection are much lower in the U.S. In Washington, we average about 200 cases per year. Most people fully recover with the right medication.

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. As part of our mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment to protect public health. We are one of roughly 244 accredited health departments in the country and among six in the state to have met or exceeded the Public Health Accreditation Board’s quality standards. Learn more at tpchd.org.

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