TB evaluation at Boeing Renton facility

A worker at the Boeing Renton facility was recently diagnosed with active tuberculosis (TB) disease. The worker had contact with six workers who require testing as a precaution to rule out TB infection. The risk for TB spreading to anyone who came into contact with the worker is low.

TB is not easy to spread

TB is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that are passed from person to person through the air. TB is not easily spread; it’s much harder to spread than the cold or flu. It typically takes repeated and prolonged exposure in a confined indoor space to become infected with TB. Even in households with a person with contagious TB disease, only about 1-in-3 close household contacts become infected.

Active disease different from latent TB

Unlike active TB disease, people with latent (or dormant) TB infection can’t spread it to others and are not ill with the disease. Approximately 100,000 people in King County have latent TB infection. While they aren’t contagious now, they could potentially have active TB in the future and also infect others. Approximately one in 10 people with latent TB infection will develop active TB disease in their lifetime.

Details on the evaluation

An evaluation of exposures identified six workers who were in close contact with the person with TB disease for a long enough period of time that testing for TB infection is recommended as a precaution. Boeing is reaching out to the six affected workers to notify them and facilitate testing free of charge.

Additional individuals had limited exposure to this staff member while contagious. Because of the brief exposure periods for these people, they are not believed to be at risk for infection, and testing is not recommended at this point. If Boeing workers have additional questions, they should contact their primary healthcare provider.

Treatment for TB

The employee with active TB disease is currently receiving treatment. Most cases of active TB are readily treatable with antibiotics that are commonly available; treatment typically takes six to nine months. Drug-resistant strains require different antibiotics and may include a longer course of treatment (up to two years).

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 and become much harder to treat.

If any staff are identified to be infected with latent TB, they may be recommended for treatment, so that they do not develop the disease in the future.

More about TB

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. In King County, 93 new cases of TB disease were reported in 2018.

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 TB 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.

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 King County is at a global crossroads, we need to be constantly vigilant to prevent the spread of TB.

Originally posted on December 18, 2019