DOH: Tuberculosis cases rising in Washington state

Washington state health officials are on heightened alert as tuberculosis (TB) cases are on the rise. 

According to the Washington State Department of Health, widespread disruptions in public health, healthcare services and missed TB diagnoses, because symptoms are similar between COVID-19 and TB, may  have contributed to the rise locally and globally. 

In 2020, reported cases were down but officials said efforts to prevent COVID-19 may have reduced the spread or may have decreased due to delayed or missed TB diagnoses. Some people with TB may have also been misdiagnosed as having COVID-19. 

In 2021, there were 199 reported cases of TB, which was a 22% increase from 2020. So far in 2022, 70 cases have been reported. 

The DOH said 17 new cases all have connections with each other and several state prisons, which makes it the largest outbreak in the last two decades. 

"It’s been 20 years since we saw a cluster of TB cases like this," says Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, Washington State Chief Science Officer. "The pandemic has likely contributed to the rise in cases and the outbreak in at least one correctional facility," added Kwan-Gett. "Increased access to TB testing and treatment in the community is going to be key to getting TB under control."

The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) has identified a rise in one of its facilities and immediately the DOH and Centers for Disease Control. 

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"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," said the DOC Chief Medical Officer MaryAnn Curl, MD.

Similar to COVID-19, TB spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes and the organism is breathed in by others. Unlike COVID-19, more prolonged exposure to someone with TB disease is typically necessary for infection to occur. 

The DOH listed tuberculosis symptoms and they include: coughing, with or without blood, chest pain, and general symptoms also include fever, night sweats, weight loss and tiredness.