EVERETT — Tuberculosis is on the rise in Snohomish County, with cases increasing by nearly a third during the first three months this year, compared to the same period last year.
Through March, 11 TB cases have been confirmed, said Heather Thomas, a Snohomish Health District spokeswoman. That compares to four confirmed cases of active tuberculosis during the first quarter last year.
A person with active TB can spread it to others.
“What concerns us is the number of active cases we’re seeing and the complexity of the cases,” she said.
People who have had close contact with the confirmed TB cases are being screened for the disease. Nearly 30 people in Snohomish County and close to a dozen others living outside the county are being checked, Thomas said.
A total of 29 active cases of TB were confirmed in Snohomish County in both 2015 and 2016, Thomas said.
Anyone who has had a cough for more than three weeks and was born outside the United States, where the disease is more common, should get checked to see if they have TB, Thomas said.
In addition to a persistent cough, the symptoms of active TB are fever, night sweats, unintentional weight loss, chest pain, loss of appetite, fatigue and blood in sputum.
Once a patient is diagnosed with active TB, “they’re contagious and more expensive to cure,” Thomas said.
Treating one active TB case can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and not just because of the daily regimen of antibiotic medications that are needed. Health district staff visit the patient’s home each day for at least the first two months to ensure they’re taking their medications as prescribed.
Contagious patients may need treatment for nine months or more.
“These people for the most part are not able to leave their house,” Thomas said. They’re confined to reduce their exposure to others, affecting their jobs and family life, she said.
If a patient is resistant to several types of antibiotics typically used to treat TB, they may need to be treated for 18 to 24 months. “That’s where you see the cost going into the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” because a combination of antibiotic medications are needed, not just one, Thomas said.
Some people exposed to active TB may get a latent form of it, meaning they’ve got the bacteria that causes TB, but it remains dormant.
People with latent TB do not feel sick and do not have symptoms. They are diagnosed through a positive skin test or a TB blood test.
People with latent TB can be treated with antibiotics to prevent them from becoming contagious.
“It’s a much quicker treatment, a matter of weeks,” Thomas said. It’s also cheaper to treat latent TB cases, about $700 to $1,000.
The recent increase in TB cases is taxing the health district staff, Thomas said. Two public health nurses are treating TB patients, with a third soon to be added.
A disease investigator performs TB screenings on people who have come in contact with someone with active tuberculosis.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org