(TACOMA, Wash.) — Health officials in Washington state said they are set to arrest a woman Friday after they said she has been avoiding treatment or isolation for tuberculosis for over a year.
The Tacoma-Pierce Health Department said the unidentified woman hasn’t complied with several court orders filed since January 2022.
Judge Philip Sorenson issued a civil arrest warrant on Feb. 24 after he found the patient was in civil contempt for refusing to comply with his order that she either resume taking her medication or voluntarily isolate herself, according to the health department.
The patient has until March 3 to comply with the order or she will be taken to a specially designated facility at the Pierce County Jail for isolation, testing and treatment, the health department said.
“In each case like this, we are constantly balancing risk to the public and the civil liberties of the patient. We are always hopeful a patient will choose to comply voluntarily. Seeking to enforce a court order through a civil arrest warrant is always our last resort,” Nigel Turner, a spokesman for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department said in a statement.
Attorney information for the infected patient wasn’t immediately available.
TB is caused by a bacterium that can attack vital organs, usually the lungs, and lead to fever, severe cough and possibly death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease can spread when an infected person coughs or speaks and TB bacteria gets into the air, the CDC said. Healthy individuals may then breathe in these bacteria and become infected, according to the CDC.
Although the disease is curable with medication, treatment can take anywhere from three to nine months, according to the CDC.
The Tacoma-Pierce Health Department has legal authority to seek court orders to persuade TB patients to take treatments and isolate according to 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 TB infected patient who refused treatment.
Turner said that health officials worked with the infected patient’s family to persuade her to comply with the 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 started treatment but she left before it was complete.
There are roughly 10 million TB cases reported annually around the world, according to the health department. Tacoma averages about 20 cases annually, the health department said.
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