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Health Department investigating two tuberculosis cases at UW Tacoma

November 1, 2016

Students and staff who came in contact with infected individuals to be tested as a precaution

Those diagnosed with active TB receiving treatment. TB is difficult to get, requires repeated and prolonged exposure.

TACOMA, Wash. – Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is investigating two cases of tuberculosis (TB) at University of Washington Tacoma.

The Health Department learned of the first case – a Pierce County resident – in April. In the second case, Public Health Seattle King County referred an individual – a King County resident – to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department for further disease investigation in September. Now, the next step in both separate disease investigations is broader outreach to potentially affected people, which include UW Tacoma students and staff who may have been exposed to either individual.

While both cases were considered to be a low exposure risk to the public, out of an abundance of caution, the Health Department and UW Tacoma want to make sure all those with an exposure risk receive testing. And, if needed, they will receive treatment to limit the further possible spread of TB and to reduce disruption to all those who may be affected.

The Health Department worked with UW Tacoma to contact 238 people, mostly students, who may have been exposed to either of the two individuals, based on their activities on campus. The Health Department has recommended TB testing to those contacted. Testing will occur on campus Nov. 7 and 8 with results read on Nov. 9 and 10. If anyone tests positive, he or she will be treated with antibiotics, which generally cures the infection. The UW Tacoma health center will accommodate affected students who can’t attend the testing and reading clinics. Others who wish to get tested should contact their health care providers.

“Public health is essential because a disease like tuberculosis can circulate in our community,” said Nigel Turner, director of communicable disease, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “When diseases occur, we work to effectively respond to limit their spread and protect the health of our community.”

What is TB?
Bacteria causes TB, and antibiotics cure it. The two stages of TB are infection and disease. A person who has latent TB infection is not sick and can’t infect other people. People with latent TB infection can develop active TB.

It is not easy to catch TB through casual contact. To spread the disease requires repeated and prolonged exposure to someone who has it. Those who live with a person with active TB disease are usually most at risk of infection.

How Does TB spread?
A person with lung TB can spread the disease when he or she:

  • Coughs or sneezes.
  • Shouts, laughs, or sings.

TB does not spread by sharing clothing, sharing eating utensils, kissing or hugging, or sexual activity. It does not spread in outdoor environments, where sunlight kills the bacteria.

Learn more about TB at www.tpchd.org/TB or call (253) 798-6410.

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