Tuberculosis evaluation for contacts of healthcare worker

A healthcare worker from University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) who cared for patients in their cancer treatment units has tested positive for tuberculosis (TB) disease. (See statement from UWMC and SCCA and video of media briefing.) Public Health – Seattle & King County, UWMC and SCCA are working to determine whether others have contracted TB from exposure to this person. At this time, we believe the risk of this person passing TB to others is low. TB is an infectious disease, but it’s not easily spread, like the flu or a cold.TB

More details on the contact evaluation 

To help understand the risk for transmission for TB, we first test people who have had the most and closest contact with the case. These people would be at highest risk to become infected.

During the early course of this evaluation, 35 healthcare co-workers have been tested, and none have tested positive for TB infection (13 have received final results, 22 have received preliminary results).

Among all the close contacts tested, only one has come back positive for latent TB (in which TB is dormant) but not active TB infection, meaning that the person is not contagious. This person, who had the highest exposure to the healthcare worker with TB disease, is a health care worker who does not provide direct patient care and is not at UWMC/SCCA. This person had spent time in a part of the world where TB is common, so we are not certain that the positive test is related to exposure to this case. All other close contacts have tested negative for TB infection to date.

Taking into account all the available clinical information and the contact evaluation, we believe the risk of TB spread from the healthcare worker to others, including patients, is low.

Follow up testing with patients

As a precaution, UWMC and SCCA have contacted approximately 140 patients who had exposure to this employee between February and July 2016 to recommend that they get testing for TB. Public Health – Seattle & King County will continue to work cooperatively with UWMC and SCCA to follow up on these results.

Treatment for TB

The healthcare worker is currently receiving treatment for TB. TB is readily treatable with antibiotics that are commonly available. To become cured, a patient must complete the entire treatment, even after they are no longer infectious. If the treatment is interrupted before the bacteria are completely eliminated, TB can develop drug-resistance. Learn more about TB drug resistance here.

More about TB

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by TB bacteria that are spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs, but can affect 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. To learn more about signs, symptoms, and transmission of TB, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s TB website.

TB program protects the community

Public Health – Seattle & King County’s TB Control program ensures that people with active tuberculosis are diagnosed and cured, and that others in contact with them who are at highest risk of infection are screened, so that infections do not spread.  This essential public health work improves the community’s health and saves money by controlling the spread of TB, preventing outbreaks, and preventing the development of multi-drug resistant TB that can be very expensive to treat.

In King County, 98 new cases of TB were reported in 2015. On average, more than two cases of active tuberculosis are diagnosed in King County each week. Another 100,000 residents are infected with TB, but in these patients the microbe is dormant (latent infection) and is not contagious.

TB is a global threat, with over two million deaths every year, as people in many parts of the world do not have access to treatment and effective TB control programs like we do in the United States. Because we are at a global crossroads in King County, we need to be constantly vigilant to prevent the spread of TB.