Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is investigating two cases of tuberculosis (TB) at University of Washington Tacoma.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria/CDC
Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria/CDC

The Health Department learned of the first case – a Pierce County resident – in April. In the second case, Public Health Seattle King County referred an individual – a King County resident – to Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department for further disease investigation in September. Now, the next step in both separate disease investigations is broader outreach to potentially affected people, which include UW Tacoma students and staff who may have been exposed to either individual.

While both cases were considered to be a low exposure risk to the public, out of an abundance of caution, the Health Department and UW Tacoma want to make sure all those with an exposure risk receive testing. And, if needed, they will receive treatment to limit the further possible spread of TB and to reduce disruption to all those who may be affected.

The Health Department worked with UW Tacoma to contact 238 people, mostly students, who may have been exposed to either of the two individuals, based on their activities on campus. The Health Department has recommended TB testing to those contacted. Testing will occur on campus Nov. 7 and 8 with results read on Nov. 9 and 10. If anyone tests positive, he or she will be treated with antibiotics, which generally cures the infection. The UW Tacoma health center will accommodate affected students who can’t attend the testing and reading clinics. Others who wish to get tested should contact their health care providers.

“Public health is essential because a disease like tuberculosis can circulate in our community,” said Nigel Turner, director of communicable disease, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “When diseases occur, we work to effectively respond to limit their spread and protect the health of our community.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.

TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The TB bacteria are put into the air when a person with TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.