Public Health – Seattle & King County is following up on the report of an individual at Wesley Lea Hill retirement community in Auburn, who was diagnosed with active tuberculosis (TB). Public Health is working to define the extent of any potential TB exposures, and supporting the facility as they conduct evaluations for those exposed and provide guidance and information to staff and residents.
TB is not easy to spread
TB is an infectious disease caused by bacteria (germs) that are passed from person to person through the air. TB is not easily spread; it’s much harder to spread than COVID-19, a cold or flu. It typically takes repeated and prolonged exposure in a confined indoor space to become infected with TB. Even in households with one person who is contagious with TB, only about 1-in-3 close household members become infected.
Details about the evaluation
As a precaution, Public Health has recommended that 11 people from the facility be evaluated for TB, based on the amount of time they were exposed to the person with TB in indoor spaces. The facility is directly contacting those who need TB evaluation, which includes a medical risk assessment and a TB test.
All staff, patients and their families are being informed this week of the situation, regardless of their level of exposure. Medical providers of patients are being informed of the TB exposure at the facility as well.
If any people at the facility are identified to be infected with latent TB infection, preventive treatment will be highly recommended, so that they do not develop the disease in the future which can spread to others. Latent TB infection can be treated in three to four months.
The person at the facility with active TB disease is receiving treatment and not currently exposing others at the facility. Most cases of active TB are readily treatable with antibiotics that are commonly available; treatment typically takes six to nine months.
Active TB versus latent TB infection
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 five percent of those who acquire latent TB infection develop active TB within two years and an additional five percent of them develop active TB over the rest of their lifetime.
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, 104 new cases of TB disease were reported in 2021. On average, about 2 cases of TB disease are diagnosed in King County each week.
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. The program has recently expanded its efforts to confront latent TB infection, with the goal of decreasing TB disease in King County by 20% in the next 10 years.
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.
Originally published on October 17, 2022.