Tacoma woman with TB refuses treatment, health officials monitoring

Jan 31, 2023, 7:36 AM | Updated: 1:15 pm
A Tacoma woman has an active case of tuberculosis (TB), according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. ((Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP) (Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images))
(Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

A Tacoma woman has an active case of tuberculosis (TB), according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Officials say they are monitoring the woman, who has declined offers of medication.

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Washington averages about 200 cases of active TB per year. The Department says it sees about 20 active cases of TB in Pierce County, and almost everyone agrees to treatment. If left untreated, tuberculosis can result in death.

Because of the circumstances of this most recent case, Nigel Turner, division director of Communicable Disease Control, says they are working with the woman’s family to try to persuade her to get the treatment she needs to help cure her case of TB.

While untreated and active cases can be contagious, Turner said it is not easily transmitted and requires contact with an infected person in an enclosed space for several hours.

“Most people we contact are happy to get the treatment they need,” said Turner. “Occasionally, people refuse treatment and isolation. When that happens, we take steps to help keep the community safe. It’s really in everybody’s interest if people get cured so that they stay health and it avoids that risk to the public.”

People with active, untreated infections are contagious and “represent a risk to the community,” according to health officials.

Among the options available to the Health Department is seeking a court order to persuade the infected person to comply with orders to take medication. But, Turner says they only do that in very rare cases. It is unknown if the Department will go to court in this instance.

State law requires healthcare providers to report all cases of active TB to a local health department.

In the Tacoma woman’s case, Turner said that action would depend on how much risk her infection poses to the public and whether officials are successful in appealing to her.

“Involving law enforcement is a very last recourse that we have, and it’s something we would do very reluctantly,” he said.

Health officials also assure the public that tuberculosis is curable with antibiotics over months. Turner says most people make a full recovery if they receive the right medication.

Sam Campbell contributed to this report 

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Tacoma woman with TB refuses treatment, health officials monitoring