Washington’s largest tuberculosis outbreak in two decades is connected to at least one state prison, as cases rise in other parts of the region, the state Department of Health announced Thursday afternoon.
The state’s rise in cases mirrors a similar trend throughout the world, DOH said in a statement. To date, Washington has recorded about 70 TB cases, 17 of which are part of the same outbreak — and are connected to at least one Washington prison, the statement said.
“It’s been 20 years since we saw a cluster of TB cases like this,” Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, the state’s chief science officer, said in the statement. “The pandemic has likely contributed to the rise in cases and the outbreak in at least one correctional facility.”
DOH pointed to “widespread disruptions” in health care systems and missed diagnoses — COVID-19 and TB have similar symptoms — as two main reasons cases have increased locally and globally.
Kwan-Gett noted that increased access to testing and treatment will likely be “key” in curbing spread.
The state Department of Corrections is testing staff and incarcerated people at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, where at least some cases were found, Dr. MaryAnn Curl, the agency’s chief medical officer, said in the statement.
DOC did not respond to a request for comment.
Tuberculosis cases in Washington “notably” rose at the beginning of 2021, which saw 199 cases, reflecting a 22% increase since 2020.
The World Health Organization also confirmed last fall that TB deaths had risen for the first time in more than a decade, largely because medical resources were being diverted to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The disease spreads through the air, though “unlike COVID-19, more prolonged exposure to someone with TB disease is typically necessary for infection to occur,” the statement said.
Symptoms generally include coughing, chest pain, fever, night sweats, weight loss and tiredness. Treatment usually takes at least six months.
No further information was available about the recent cases.