Health officials in Washington state said they were to arrest a woman Friday after they said she had avoided treatment or isolation for tuberculosis for more than a year.
The Tacoma-Pierce Health Department said the unidentified woman has failed to comply with several court orders filed since January 2022.
Judge Philip Sorenson issued a civil arrest warrant on Feb. 24 after finding the patient in civil contempt because she refused to comply with his order to either continue taking her medication or voluntarily self-isolate, according to the health department.
The patient has until March 3 to comply with the order or she will be transferred to a specially designated facility at the Pierce County Jail for isolation, testing and treatment, the health department said.
“In every case like this, we constantly balance the risk to the public against the patient’s civil liberties. We always hope that a patient will choose to voluntarily comply. Seeking to enforce a court order through a civil warrant is always our last resort,” he said. Nigel Turner, spokesman for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in a statement.
Attorney information for the infected patient was not immediately available.
Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium that can attack vital organs, usually the lungs, and lead to fever, a severe cough and possibly death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease can spread when an infected person coughs or talks and TB bacteria become airborne, the CDC said. Healthy people can then breathe in these bacteria and become infected, according to the CDC.
Although the disease is treatable with medication, treatment can take anywhere from three to nine months, according to the CDC.
The Tacoma-Pierce Department of Health has legal authority to seek court orders to get TB patients treated and isolated under Washington state law. Turner said this is the third time in 20 years that the health department has had to seek a court order to detain a tuberculosis patient who refused treatment.
Turner said health officials worked with the infected patient’s family to get her to comply with health orders.
The woman was under an involuntary isolation order from Dec. 25, 2022 to Feb. 8, according to the health department. Health officials said the woman began treatment but left before it was completed.
There are about 10 million cases of tuberculosis reported annually worldwide, according to the Ministry of Health. Tacoma averages about 20 cases a year, the health department said.