Washington experiences largest tuberculosis outbreak in 20 years, symptoms of disease explored

Washington State reports a drastic increase in tuberculosis cases. (Image via stop_tuberculosis/Instagram)
Washington State reports a drastic increase in tuberculosis cases. (Image via stop_tuberculosis/Instagram)

Washington State has reported an increase in tuberculosis cases, per a release from the Washington State Department of Health. The DoH has said that state and local public health officials are on high alert as reports of cases and outbreaks come out.

As per the data released, 70 cases have been detected since the beginning of this year, out of which 17 are connected to each other and have connections to TB outbreaks in Washington state prisons. These statistics have taken the outbreak to a 20-year high per DoH.

The increase in cases has been attributed to the disruption of public health services and reassignment of resources to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The chances of increased misdiagnosis due to similarity of symptoms with COVID-19 may also have caused the surge in cases.


What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?

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Tuberculosis is a contagious infection that attacks an individual’s lungs. Per Web MD, the disease was once the leading cause of death in the United States in the 20th century.

Symptoms of the contagious disease include persistent coughing for more than three weeks, chest pain, coughing up blood, tiredness, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Another significant sign of infection is fever, accompanied by night sweats and chills.

The symptoms of the infection have an uncanny resemblance to what we know now as the symptoms of COVID-19. Per DoH, TB cases saw a downfall in 2020.

Then in 2021, the cases saw a 22% rise from the previous year with 199 cases. The massive numbers already being reported this year have taken the TB outbreak to a 20-year high.

Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, Washington State Chief Science Officer, said in a DoH statement:

“It’s been 20 years since we saw a cluster of TB cases like this. The pandemic has likely contributed to the rise in cases and the outbreak in at least one correctional facility.”

Kwan-Gett added:

“Increased access to TB testing and treatment in the community is going to be key to getting TB under control.”

As cases of tuberculosis increase, per the DoH, it is crucial to remember that the disease is entirely curable, though treatment for the infection takes six months. A TB infection spreads the same way as COVID-19 through the air, but it requires a larger time frame of exposure.

Often, people exposed to infections or places with a high infection rate catch inactive or latent TB, which does not present any symptoms. If these people are not treated, the condition can turn into active TB and spread among others.

Per the DoH statement, Washington State has 200,000 people with latent or inactive tuberculosis. The DoH has urged people at risk of a TB infection to get tested and get treatment if they test positive.

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