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Tuberculosis on Campus: What You Need to Know

Background information

In June of 2017, UW and Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) were notified that a person at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus was diagnosed with active tuberculosis (TB). This person is hospitalized and receiving treatment.

Public Health is working with UW to determine who may have been exposed, notify anyone affected, test those who were exposed for possible infection, and provide guidance and information to the UW community.

About 150 people have been identified as having had contact with the individual and are being tested. All of these have been notified of their possible exposure with the letter linked to here. Testing includes having either a TB skin test or a blood test. The skin test is then read 48-72 hours later.

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by a germ that is spread through the air. TB is not easily passed from person to person. It takes repeated and prolonged exposure in an indoor space to become infected.

There are two types of TB: latent and active. For most people (90%), TB remains dormant in the body and cannot be passed to anyone else – this is called latent tuberculosis. The remaining 10% develop active tuberculosis, a very serious illness if left untreated.

Even in households with a contagious (active) TB case, only about 1-in-3 close household contacts become infected, and of these, 90% will have latent TB and will never develop active TB.

The general UW campus community is not at increased risk to get TB infection as a result of this case.

TB is an ongoing global public health concern, and our region is at a global crossroads, so it’s not surprising that we will continue to see new TB cases in our community. PHSKC’s focus is to identify and respond to new cases quickly, so they don’t result in future outbreaks.

Understanding active vs. latent tuberculosis

In 2015 in King County, 98 people were diagnosed with active TB, for a rate of 4.8 per 100,000 population; the national rate for 2015 was 3.0 per 100,000. About 80% of individuals with active TB were born outside of the United States, most commonly from Vietnam, Philippines, and India.

We estimate approximately 100,000 people in King County have latent, or dormant, TB infection. While they aren’t contagious now, they could potentially have active TB in the future and also infect others.

Approximately 5% of those exposed to active TB develop active TB themselves within two years. An additional 5% become ill later in their lives. In the other 90%, the infection remains dormant for life.

Preventing active tuberculosis

People who have latent TB infection can reduce their risk of developing active disease by having that infection detected and treated by their primary care provider.

People with latent TB have a 10% lifetime risk of developing active TB disease. It can be reduced to less than 1% with relatively simple and safe treatment.

Health care providers should prioritize testing individuals from any countries where TB is common and offer treatment (when indicated) to anyone with latent TB.

Ask your doctor about whether testing for latent TB is right for you.

How did this person get infected?

We don’t know how this person may have become infected. A person may be infected with TB many years before developing active TB disease. Most people who have TB infection never develop TB disease.

I don’t have a regular doctor. How can I get help if I have questions about TB?

You are welcome to visit Hall Health Center. Contact us at (206) 685-1011 to schedule an appointment.