Washington State Department of Health officials says state and local public health experts are on “heightened alert” after noticing an alarming uptick in Tuberculosis cases not just in Washington, but worldwide. TB cases seemingly trended downward in 2020 due to decreased reporting, before a 22 percent rise in cases again in 2021.
The total number of cases for 2021 was 199, and DOH said 70 cases have already been reported so far this year Individuals could “have been misdiagnosed as having COVID-19” when some of them may have actually had TB because of the similarity of symptoms, the agency said.
The strained healthcare system could have contributed to missing the TB diagnoses as well, which would explain why TB cases are on the rise. Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, Washington state’s chief science officer, said a TB cluster this size hasn’t been seen in 20 years. $2 for 2 months Subscribe for unlimited access to our website, app, eEdition and more CLAIM OFFER “The pandemic has likely contributed to the rise in cases and the outbreak in at least one correctional facility,” said Kwan-Gett.
“Increased access to TB testing and treatment in the community is going to be key to getting TB under control.” Washington State Department of Corrections Chief Medical Officer Dr. MaryAnn Curl said cases were found by testing the incarcerated population at Stafford Creek Correctional Center in Aberdeen as well as staff. They immediately contacted DOH and the Centers for Disease Control to decrease the spread and do testing after noticing a rise.
At least 17 cases in Washington and throughout correctional facilities in the state are connected. Coughs and sneezes from a person infected with TB can spread the disease through the air, similar to COVID-19. Unlike COVID-19, however, TB requires a longer exposure to someone who is infected.
DOH said that TB symptoms also can include.
- Coughing, which can sometimes contain blood
- Chest pain Fever
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
People who are infected will most likely get inactive TB which is not symptomatic or contagious, DOH said. Untreated TB will eventually lead to more severe symptoms, including developing into active TB. Active TB is contagious.
Diligent treatment must be followed for at least six months to eliminate symptoms and stop the community’s spread of the disease. Treatments can become antibiotic-resistant if not followed through. DOH estimates that 200,000 Washingtonians have inactive TB. The department encouraged those at risk for TB to get tested and treated if positive.
Those in close contact with someone who has TB are at a high risk of becoming infected. Homeless shelters, correctional facilities and nursing homes also are at increased risk. Those who travel frequently to areas where TB is more common are also at a higher risk.