Investments in tuberculosis control bring infection rate down to 30-year low in King County

Tuberculosis (TB) rates in King County have declined to a 30-year low, and drops in TB rates are being seen across the nation thanks to continued investments in local TB control efforts. But being at a global crossroads means that King County continues to be at higher risk for new cases in the United States, given the worldwide TB epidemic.

Public Health - Seattle & King County's new 2011 TB report—online at—details these latest findings, as well as the TB Control Program’s innovative work to control the spread of the disease and fight the growing concern of drug resistant TB.
"TB control is an essential investment in the health of our communities," said Dr. David Fleming, Director & Health Officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County. "We can't afford to let down our guard—especially now that drug-resistant TB is on the rise worldwide."
As members of a global community, residents of King County are vulnerable to TB. One-third of the world’s population is infected with TB and it kills nearly two million people every year.  In King County for 2011:
  • 106 cases of active TB were reported.
  • Public Health’s TB Control Program provided more than 9,000 patient visits at its clinic.
  • The TB rate fell to a 30-year low, with 5.5 cases per 100,000 people. However, the rate in King County remains significantly higher than the rates in Washington state (3.0) and the United States (3.4).
  • 18 cases (one out of every six treated in King County) were resistant to at least one TB medication, and one had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). Each MDR case can cost $250,000 or more and take at least 18 months to treat.
King County had its first case of extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB), from a person diagnosed overseas but living locally. XDR TB is resistant to the most potent TB drugs and is extremely difficult to treat.
In addition to active TB cases, there are an estimated 100,000 people in King County with latent (or dormant) TB infection who do not know they have it. For a small fraction of these people, this latent form of TB will become active TB; most new active TB cases in King County will come from this group. The TB Control Program is putting new emphasis on finding and treating latent TB locally and decreasing the number of individuals progressing to active TB, thanks in part to a 10-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"If we catch TB infection before it becomes active, treatment is cheaper and easier, and we can help stop the spread of TB," said Dr. Masa Narita, TB Control Officer for Public Health. "Best of all, fewer people will get sick with active tuberculosis.  For TB, treatment is prevention.”
The TB Control Program is also implementing innovative strategies for treating patients:
  • Through expanded use of web-based technology, patients can now connect with clinic staff online to verify they are taking their medications and talk to TB clinic staff about their treatment.
  • A new, shorter treatment plan is being introduced that reduces the medication regimen from nine to three months, making it easier for patients to complete their treatment.
Background on TB
Tuberculosis, also called TB, is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium named Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB often involves the lungs (pulmonary TB) but can infect almost any organ in the body. TB is almost always curable with antibiotics that are readily available in countries such as the United States.
People with active TB disease are made sick by bacteria that are active in their body. People with latent, or dormant, TB infection are not sick because the germ is inactive inside their body, and they cannot spread TB infection to others.
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