Got kind of a disturbing press release this afternoon from Suzanne Pate at Snohomish Health District…
Snohomish Health District has begun a major tuberculosis outreach and contact investigation after identifying a strain that has been circulating in the community for at least two years.
The investigation began this fall after two earlier deaths from tuberculosis (TB) were connected to a person currently hospitalized in Snohomish County for TB.
“The general community is not at risk of infection,” said Joseph Aharchi, manager of the Health District’s Tuberculosis Control program. “We are finding and testing all the close contacts of the deceased, and will treat all the cases we detect. TB is preventable and curable.”
The first man died in a Snohomish County hospital in 2010. The second man died in 2012 in a King County hospital, but had lived in Everett. The Snohomish Health District was notified by the State Department of Health in August that the currently hospitalized case was tied to the others, indicating an outbreak of the disease and launching the prevention and control efforts. All three had the same exact strain of the disease based on DNA testing of the bacteria.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that spreads through the air when sick people cough, sing, talk, laugh, or sneeze. It is not spread through casual contact.
In most people who breathe in TB bacteria and become infected, the body is able to fight the bacteria and the person never gets ill. Such “latent TB” is not contagious, but should be treated to prevent future sickness. That’s why public health agencies actively seek out and offer testing to those who may have been in close contact with people sick with tuberculosis disease.
So far, the Snohomish Health District has screened 82 clients and staff of Compass Health, people identified as being most in contact with the tuberculosis patients. Nine have tested positive for latent tuberculosis and begun treatment, including one staff member. Two other people actively sick with tuberculosis have been identified by the Health District.
“Compass Health serves some of the community’s most disenfranchised people – people who are most at risk of illness of any kind,” said Tom Sebastian, President and CEO of Compass Health. “We want to help them as much as we can, and are doing all that we can to assist in this illness investigation and to get our clients and staff treated if needed.”
Compass Health is a private, nonprofit, state licensed organization providing mental health and chemical dependency services in Snohomish, Island, Skagit, and San Juan counties. In addition to serving individuals and families, the agency provides consultation, training, and educational services to other providers, law enforcement and correctional facilities, and the community at large.
The Snohomish Health District investigation is expected to continue for months as additional contacts are identified and screened.
“We are concerned that the first local cases of tuberculosis were not diagnosed until people were very sick with the disease,” Aharchi said. “TB is off the radar for doctors in this country in part because it is so much worse in other parts of the world, and in part because the number of cases in the United States has declined in recent years.”
The Health District has sent a letter to all hospital emergency departments and medical specialists in the county reminding them to be on the lookout for symptoms of TB in at-risk patients such as homeless persons, injection drug users, and people with HIV infection.
One-third of the world’s population is infected with TB, but it is much less common in the United States. In 2009, there were 529 U.S. deaths from TB.
The Snohomish Health District currently manages the treatment of about 25 active cases each year. The Tuberculosis Control program also provides screening of refugees and asylees, consultations to health care providers, education for clients and families, and routine contact investigations to assure that people exposed to TB are offered screening.
Established in 1959, the Snohomish Health District works for a safer and healthier Snohomish County through disease prevention, health promotion, and protection from environmental threats. Find more information about the Health District at www.snohd.org.
Symptoms of tuberculosis in the lungs:
· Cough for over three weeks
· Night sweats
· Unintentional weight loss
· Chest pain
· Loss of appetite
· Blood in the sputum
Tuberculosis can also infect other parts of the body, such as the bones or other organs. Those cases are not contagious, but need to be identified so they can be properly treated.
If you think you have signs and symptoms of tuberculosis, contact your medical provider. If you are uninsured, contact Community Health Center, which has clinics in Everett, Edmonds and Lynnwood.
Contact the Snohomish Health District Tuberculosis Control Program at 425.339.5225
· If you are a health care provider and you have a client you suspect may have tuberculosis
· If you believe you have been exposed recently to a person with active tuberculosis
· If you have a positive tuberculosis skin test (TST) for the first time and you don’t know what you should do
· If you have questions about tuberculosis