Tuberculosis remains a health concern in King County

March 24, 2011

By Staff

NEW — 3 p.m. March 24, 2011

Public Health – Seattle & King County released new information about tuberculosis in King County on Thursday as part of World TB Day.

The health agency reported 116 active, or infectious, TB cases last year — a decrease from 130 cases in 2009. Officials said six of the cases last year resulted from the recently discovered PCR0001 strain.

The strain appears more likely to infect other people and cause active TB more than common strains.

The strain has caused 76 cases in local homeless people since 2002, and is starting to reach the broader community. Of the six PCR0001 cases from last year, three came from outside of the homeless population.

“We aren’t immune in King County from the global epidemic or the changing nature of the disease itself,” Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said in a release. “The wider spread of what appears to be a more potent strain is concerning, and it’s an important example of why we can’t afford to relax our efforts in controlling TB.”

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium. TB often involves the lungs, but can infect almost any organ in the body, and is almost always curable with antibiotics readily available in the United States.

King County’s active TB rate is consistently among the highest for any local area in the United States — a fact health officials said reflects the global nature of the population. Of the 116 people diagnosed with active TB last year, 84 percent had been born outside of the United States.

Officials said about one-third of the world’s population is infected with TB, and 2 million people die from the disease each year.

The county TB Control Program has made efforts in recent years to help control the spread of the PCR0001 strain among the homeless population. Now, the program is focused on controlling the spread of the strain more broadly.

The program ensures that with active TB receive a proper diagnosis and treatment until they have been cured.

More than 2,800 clients make almost 12,000 visits to the TB clinic for treatment each year. The program also evaluates immigrants and refugees suspected of having active TB.

Due to state and county budget crises, the program faces continued funding challenges. The program has had to cut staffing levels and limit services to the highest-priority cases and contacts.

“We estimate approximately 100,000 people in King County have latent, or dormant, TB infection. While they aren’t contagious now, some will develop active TB in the future and could infect others,” Dr. Masa Narita, TB Control Officer for the health agency, said in a release. “TB is curable and preventable, but controlling TB is an ongoing challenge, especially with fewer resources to protect the community.”

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