A contagious woman who refused to self-isolate or seek treatment for tuberculosis (TB) for more than a year has finally been arrested.
The patient, who has not been named, was taken into police custody in Tacoma, Wash., last week and will remain in the Pierce County Jail for 45 days.
Authorities hope to persuade her to receive treatment as she must give her consent.
The woman was deemed a risk to public health and safety by a judge in March after she repeatedly refused to self-quarantine. She was spotted defying court orders in one case by riding a bus and hanging out at a casino.
Tuberculosis, one of the most infectious and deadly diseases in the world, can be easily transmitted by coughing, sneezing and even singing and laughing.
Patients who do not receive treatment can remain infectious for years, experts have said.
The Tacoma, Washington patient had refused to self-isolate or take medication since being diagnosed with a contagious bacterial infection more than a year ago.
Laws allowing courts to order someone to stay home or isolate themselves from others after they are found to be a public health risk are in place in 38 US states, including the three most populous – California, Texas and New York (red)
Tuberculosis deaths have declined significantly over the past three decades. They have fallen from around 1,800 in 1993 to around 600 in 2020, the CDC reports, although they have now started to rise again
The woman was detained at her home on June 1 and placed in a negative pressure room at Pierce County Jail.
The room is specially equipped for isolation, testing and treatment to reduce the risk of transmission within the prison.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department said in an update, “We hope she chooses to receive the life-saving treatment she needs for her tuberculosis.
“Thank you to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and deputies who supported public health with this needed response.”
He added: “We are working with her and her family to try to persuade her to get the treatment she needs to help cure TB so she can protect herself and others.”
Nigel Turner, division director at the Pierce County Health Department, said he was still looking for alternatives to detention, but “in this case, it wasn’t possible.”
Deputies took the woman into custody on Thursday after a judge issued a civil warrant detaining her for up to 45 days.
The woman was diagnosed with tuberculosis in January 2022, after she was apparently a passenger in a car accident and went to the emergency room with chest pains.
X-rays showed progression of tuberculosis. She had also tested positive for Covid.
She received her first isolation order in mid-January but declined and has since received more than 20 orders.
In March, she was found in contempt of court and a warrant for her arrest was issued.
The March order called for her to be held in Pierce County Jail for tuberculosis testing and treatment until medical tests show she “no longer poses a health threat, public safety and welfare”.
In April, she was found in contempt of court for flouting quarantine orders for riding a city bus when she tested positive for tuberculosis.
It was unclear why the woman refused to self-isolate, but in previous cases it was linked to personal beliefs or someone refusing to believe they were infected.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that spreads through the air from person to person and usually affects the lungs. It can be dangerous and even fatal if left untreated.
BCG vaccination provides up to 80% protection in babies and young children, but the vaccine is less effective against tuberculosis in the lungs in adults.
The BCG vaccine is not widely used in America and does not prevent infection.
Symptoms depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are growing, but include chest pain, lack of appetite, chills and fever.
It spreads when someone infected with pulmonary tuberculosis coughs, talks or sings, but you would have to spend several hours in close contact to catch it.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 45% of tuberculosis patients die without proper treatment. The tuberculosis mortality rate was 0.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020, 13% higher than in 2019.
Treatment includes a three to nine month course of antibiotics, isoniazid and rifampicin. Depending on the type and severity of the infection, medications may be used daily or weekly.
Documents filed early in the story of the case indicated that the woman had started, but had not completed, prescribed treatment for tuberculosis.
Pierce County typically sees about 20 active TB cases per year.
About 8,000 Americans are diagnosed with TB each year – although that figure continues to drop amid vaccinations and treatments.