OLYMPIA — Across the globe, tuberculosis kills more people each year than any other infectious disease, and now it appears to be gaining a foothold in Pacific County and other parts of the Evergreen State.
The number of Washington TB cases has risen, and the disease is getting harder to treat, according to a March 21 Washington Department of Health press release.
Pacific County appears to be part of this concerning new trend. According to DOH records, Pacific County had no cases of TB between 2010 and 2013. In 2014, there was one case. In 2015, there were two.
During 2015, there were 208 cases of TB in Washington, a seven percent increase over 2014, when there were 194 cases. Twenty-one cases were resistant to at least one of the drugs used to treat TB, and four cases were resistant to multiple drugs.
“Cases are becoming more complicated, requiring greater resources and skills in a time of decreased funding and increased global drug resistance,” DOH Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said in the press release.
TB is a bacterial disease that spreads through the air when sufferers cough, speak or sneeze. People become infected by breathing in the airborne bacteria. TB usually affects the lungs. Symptoms can include fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss and a persistent cough, but some infected people show no symptoms.
Each year, about 10 million people get TB, and about 1.5 million people die from it. About one-third of the world’s population has latent TB, meaning they are infected, but don’t have symptoms yet, and aren’t contagious.
In the early stages, TB is fairly easy to treat with antibiotics. However, it becomes more dangerous and difficult to treat as its progresses. People with weak or immature immune systems are at greater risk, if infected.
Treatment can be costly. According to the fact sheet, it costs about $700 to treat a typical case of early TB, up to $44,000 to treat an advanced case, and as much as $282,000 to treat drug-resistant cases.
Currently, about three out of every 100,000 Washington residents develop TB. That’s about the same as the national average. However, state health experts are still concerned, because some communities have significantly higher than average rates.
In 2015, the counties with the highest number of cases were King (98), Snohomish (30), Pierce (16) and Yakima (12).
Some groups are disproportionately affected by TB. In 2015, 76 percent of Washington cases were in people born outside the U.S. Just under half of the state’s cases were among Asians. Seventeen percent of cases occurred in African-Americans, 14 percent among Hispanics and 10 percent among whites.
Older adults and men are at higher risk, and people with HIV or diabetes are especially vulnerable, according to a DOH fact sheet. In 2015, 21 percent of Washington TB sufferers were diabetics. TB is also more common among people who have lived or worked in certain settings, including jails, homeless shelters and nursing homes.
According to the Center for Disease Control, factors associated with poverty, such as frequent moves, poor access to healthcare, unemployment and lack of transportation can hamper the treatment of TB, which often requires months of medication and doctor visits.
Most healthy people do not need to be tested for TB. But people who have risk factors, or spend time with someone who has TB should talk with their doctor. The disease can be detected through a simple skin test. In some cases, a lung x-ray is also necessary.
To find out more about testing in Pacific County, contact the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department, at 360-875-9343.