Pierce County Woman Refusing Tuberculosis Treatment Arrested


A Tacoma woman who refused treatment for tuberculosis for more than a year, was arrested Thursday by Pierce County deputies to be isolated and treated in jail.

A warrant for the woman's arrest was issued in March, and a Pierce County Superior Court  judge found her in civil contempt for refusing to comply with the order that she resume taking medication or isolate herself.

She was booked into a negative pressure room Thursday in the Pierce County Jail where she will get treatment, according to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.

In February, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department went to the court for the 16th time in this case to seek the arrest warrant, which is a rare "last-resort" step health officials can take to protect the public, the department said.

This is only the third time in the past 20 years health officials have sought a court order to detain someone who is potentially contagious and refusing treatment for TB, the department said.

Pierce County has about 20 cases of active TB per year. Washington state law requires health care providers to report all active cases to the health department. According to the department, "Nearly all patients we contact are more than happy to get the treatment they need to help protect themselves and our community."

TB is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs. It can also affect lymph nodes, bones, joints and other parts of the body. It can be deadly but is curable with medication.

Most TB infections are latent or dormant (approximately 100,000 people in King County have latent TB infections), which means a person has no symptoms and cannot spread the disease, according to health officials.

Active TB is much harder to spread than the cold or flu, health officials said. For an infection to occur, it typically takes repeated and prolonged exposure in a confined indoor space.

Material from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.