Tuberculosis on the rise in Washington state

State and local public health officials are on heightened alert, as Washington’s tuberculosis cases are on the rise, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

TB diagnoses are being missed due to the similarity in symptoms with COVID-19, which is thought to have contributed to TB cases locally and globally.

Cases of TB began to rise notably in 2021, when 199 cases of TB were reported – a 22% increase from 2020.

Already in 2022, 70 cases of TB have been reported.

Seventeen of those cases have been connected with each other and several Washington prisons, making it the state’s largest outbreak in 20 years.

“Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) identified a rise in cases in one of our facilities, and immediately began working closely with the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control on testing, as well as ways to decrease the spread in the facility and out in the community,” said DOC Chief Medical Officer MaryAnn Curl. “Testing of staff and our incarcerated population at Stafford Creek Correction Center continues, which is how these cases were found. We’ll continue to communicate with staff, their incarcerated population and their families as appropriate.”

TB is spread through the air like COVID-19, spreading when an infected person coughs or sneezes and the organism is breathed in by someone else.

However, unlike COVID-19, a more prolonged exposure to someone with TB is typically necessary for an infection to occur.

Symptoms of TB include coughing; with or without blood; chest pain; fever; night sweats; weight loss and tiredness.

If someone does become infected with TB, they will most likely develop inactive TB, which does not have any symptoms and is not contagious.

However, if someone with inactive TB does not receive treatment, the infection could develop into active TB, which can cause the symptoms and be spread to others.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, an estimated 200,000 people in the state have inactive TB.

Treatment for TB takes six months at a minimum, and incomplete treatments could lead to the spread of antibiotic strains of TB.