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Tuberculosis rate increasing in Washington state

Tuberculosis cases increased in Washington state for the first time after several years of decline.

Last year, 209 cases of tuberculosis (TB) were reported - a 13 percent increase from the 185 cases reported in 2012. The TB rate in Washington has historically been lower than the national average, but in 2013 it matched the national rate.

“Tuberculosis can be a very serious, even fatal disease. Treatment is difficult for people because it requires taking multiple medications for several months,” State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said.

“It’s important for public health and the health care community to stay vigilant and work together to control tuberculosis,” she said.

Lofy said TB is a dangerous disease. It’s a bacterial infection that usually affects the lungs but can attack other parts of the body.

Most symptoms include fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss and a persistent cough. Some people may be infected with TB and have no symptoms.

Timely treatment with proper antibiotics is the key to survival and less severe symptoms.

People with HIV or AIDS, individuals younger than 5 and older than 50, and those with weakened immune systems are at increased risk. The disease is spread in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, and others breathe in the bacteria.

The counties with the most cases in 2013 were King (114), Snohomish (26), Pierce (22), Spokane (7), Clark (5) and Thurston (5).

Drug-resistant TB continues to be a public health threat in Washington. This type of TB requires treatment for a longer period of time. In 2013, two cases of multi-drug resistant TB were reported to the state Department of Health.

Lofy said infection control procedures must be in place in hospitals or health care settings to prevent exposure to TB to ensure that it doesn’t spread.

TB rates are often higher among racial and ethnic groups. Almost 75 percent of the 2013 cases in the state were in foreign-born individuals.

The burden of the disease continues to increase, particularly as drug-resistant cases become more common globally. While there’s been considerable work done to prevent the spread of this disease, fighting TB is a long-term commitment that must be met by the public health and health care communities, said Lofy.

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