TB on the rise in Washington

The number of tuberculosis cases in Washington rose by 7 percent last year, catching the attention of public health officials across the state.

In 2015, Washington health officials recorded 208 cases of TB disease – up from 194 cases in 2014. About three out of every 100,000 Washington residents develop TB disease, which is about the same as the national average, according to state health officials.

But some Washington communities have significantly higher rates, health officials said.

The counties with the most TB cases in 2015 were King (98), Snohomish (30), Pierce (16) and Yakima (12).

Worldwide, nearly 10 million people become ill with TB and 1.5 million people die from the disease, making TB the leading cause of infectious disease death in the world, according to health officials.

About one-third of the world’s population has latent TB, which means they are infected with the bacteria but are not yet ill and cannot spread the disease to others.

TB is easily treated when detected in its early stage (latent TB infection). When it develops into TB disease, it’s more complex and serious, according to health officials.

TB bacteria spreads through the air when someone with the illness coughs, sneezes or speaks and someone else breathes in the bacteria.

Symptoms of TB may include fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss and a persistent cough. Some people may have no symptoms.

“I’m concerned about the future of tuberculosis in Washington state,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, a state communicable disease epidemiologist, in a news release. “Cases are becoming more complicated, requiring greater resources and skills in a time of decreased funding and increased global drug resistance.”

TB that cannot be cured by standard medications, called drug-resistant TB, requires longer treatment periods with drugs that are more expensive.

In 2015, 21 cases in Washington were resistant to one or more drugs currently used as a “first line of treatment” for TB, according to state health officials. Four of the cases were resistant to multiple drugs.

March 24 is World TB Day – a day set aside to discuss issues related the disease.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at marissa.harshman@columbian.com or 360-735-4546.

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