Public Health – Seattle and King County are following up on the report of an individual at a Transitional Care Center in Seattle who was diagnosed with active tuberculosis (TB). Public health works to identify potential exposure to TB, supports the facility as it conducts assessments for those exposed and provides guidance and information to staff and residents.
TB is not easy to spread
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria (germs) that are passed from person to person through the air. Tuberculosis does not spread easily. It is much more difficult to spread than COVID-19, a cold or the flu. It usually takes repeated and prolonged exposure in an enclosed enclosed space to develop tuberculosis. Even in families where there is only one person infected with TB, only about 1 in 3 close family members becomes infected.
Details about the evaluation
As a precaution, Public Health recommended that 25 people from the facility be evaluated for tuberculosis, based on the amount of time they were exposed to the person with tuberculosis indoors. The facility contacts directly those who require a tuberculosis evaluation, which includes a medical risk assessment and tuberculosis testing.
All staff, patients and their families were informed this week of the situation, regardless of their level of exposure. Patients’ medical providers are also informed of exposure to tuberculosis in the facility.
If anyone in the facility is identified as having latent TB infection, prophylactic treatment will be highly recommended, so that they do not develop disease in the future that could spread to others. Latent TB infection can be cured within three to four months.
A person with active TB is receiving treatment at the facility and is not currently exposing others in the facility. Most cases of active TB can be easily treated with commonly available antibiotics. Treatment usually takes six to nine months.
Active TB versus latent TB infection
Unlike active TB, people with latent (or inactive) TB infection cannot pass it on to others and do not develop the disease. Nearly 100,000 people in King County have latent tuberculosis infection. While they are not contagious now, they are likely to develop active TB in the future and infect others as well.
Approximately five percent of those who develop latent TB infection develop active TB within two years and an additional five percent develop active TB over the rest of their lives.
More about tuberculosis
TB usually affects the lungs, but it can affect the lymph nodes, bones, joints, and other parts of the body. A person with active TB in the lungs can spread the disease by coughing or sneezing. In King County, 104 new cases of tuberculosis were reported in 2021. On average, about two cases of tuberculosis are diagnosed in King County each week.
To learn more about the signs, symptoms, and transmission of tuberculosis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Anti-tuberculosis program protects society
Public Health – The TB Control Program in Seattle and King County ensures that people with active TB are diagnosed and cured, and that others in contact with them who are at risk of infection are screened, so that the infection does not spread. The program recently expanded its efforts to address latent TB infection, with the goal of reducing TB in King County by 20% in the next 10 years.
This fundamental work in public health improves community health and saves money by controlling the spread of tuberculosis, preventing outbreaks, and preventing the development of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which can be very expensive to treat.
TB is a global threat, causing more than two million deaths each year, with people in many parts of the world not having access to effective TB treatment and programs as in the United States.
Originally published on June 23, 2022.