Judge issues arrest warrant for Tacoma woman with TB refusing treatment

TACOMA, Wash. — A judge has issued a civil arrest warrant for a woman with tuberculosis, allowing law enforcement to arrest her as soon as Friday after she refused to isolate or take life-saving medication for over a year.

After her arrest, she would be taken to a facility equipped for isolation, testing, and treatment.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department says this is only the third time in 20 years that it has had to seek a court order to detain a potentially contagious person who refused treatment for TB.

“We have worked with family and community members for more than a year to do everything we can to persuade this woman to take her medication to protect herself and our community,” said Nigel Turner, division director of Communicable Disease Control in Pierce County, in a blog post on Tuesday. “After 15 court hearings, we are closing in on our last option.”

On Feb. 24, the judge overseeing this case found the woman in civil contempt for refusing to comply with an order to resume taking her medication or voluntarily isolate herself.

Most people with TB disease will need to take TB medicine for at least six months to be cured, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In each case like this, we are constantly balancing risk to the public and the civil liberties of the patient. We are always hopeful a patient will choose to comply voluntarily. Seeking to enforce a court order through a civil arrest warrant is always our last resort,” said Turner.

Washington averages about 200 cases of active TB per year, with about 20 of those cases occurring in Pierce County.

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