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TB: New local data on the contagious disease that won't go away

Summary

A third of the world's population is infected with the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. Here in King County, the TB Control Program works to assure that people with active TB are cured and community spread is stopped. In 2014 there were 100 people in King County with active TB disease.

Story

Every week in King County, an average of two residents are diagnosed with active tuberculosis (TB).  Currently an estimated 100,000 King County residents are infected with the bacterium that causes TB; while the microbe lies dormant it may reactivate over time (which is known as "latent TB.")  About a third of the world's population is infected with latent TB, but most are unaware.

As a crossroads for global trade and migration, the Seattle region has higher rates of active TB cases than the national average. Newly released data for 2014 show the numbers of TB locally are relatively stable. We currently have the lowest recorded TB rate for King County, which reflects a longer term trend of keeping TB under control.

"TB continues to be a threat locally but is a curable disease requiring a strong Tuberculosis Program and community partnerships to ensure we are able to promptly identify, diagnose, treat and monitor all persons with active TB in King County," said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Interim Health Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County.  "Curing people and protecting the public at large by preventing community spread of TB is the mission of the Tuberculosis Program."

Tuberculosis can be treated and cured using antibiotics, but drug resistant strains of TB are a growing problem.

"Antibiotic resistance is a challenge in TB treatment worldwide," said Dr. Masa Narita, TB Control Officer for Public Health. "To minimize this threat and cure individuals, it's critical that we have the resources to manage each case of active TB, and ensure that patients complete their treatment."

Some key facts about TB

  • 100 cases of active TB were reported in King County in 2014 (5.0 per 100,000 residents). In 2013 there were 114 cases.
  • Treatment requires a combination of antibiotics over the course of six to nine months and is usually effective.
  • Drug-resistant TB has emerged as a new threat on the horizon. Once the pathogen has evolved resistance to the front-line antibiotics, a patient must take a combination of expensive second-line drugs that may cause serious side-effects. Treatment of a single case can cost $100,000-$200,000.
  • In King County, 23 percent of people treated in 2014 were resistant to one of the TB drugs. There was one case of Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) TB in 2014. Approximately 5 percent of global TB cases are now MDR.
  • 87 percent of infected individuals were born outside of the United States. Individuals were most commonly from Vietnam, Philippines, India, China, and Mexico.
  • TB disease (active TB) often leads to persistent cough, fever and weight loss. If the disease is in someone's lungs, they can give the disease to others through coughing.
  • Untreated active TB is often fatal, typically by causing lung failure.

The last outbreak of TB in King County spread in the homeless population from 2002-2003.

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