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November 21, 2011 at 5:48 PM

King County's TB rate remains high

King County continues to have a dubious distinction: one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the nation.

The 114 cases of active TB identified last year in King County may not sound like a lot at first glance. But public health officials say the number represents only a small fraction of the estimated 100,000 county residents who have a latent TB infection.

And there’s this: Nearly one in five of those diagnosed with active TB last year was resistant to at least one drug used to treat the disease; and two people had multi-drug resistant TB, which can cost up to $250,000 to treat. Of the close contacts of those who tested positive for active TB, nearly one quarter were infected with latent or dormant TB.

Why is King County’s rate so high? Public health officials say the county’s status as a global crossroads brings in people from all around the world, where about one third of the population is infected with TB, and some 2 million die from it every year.

About 84 percent of those infected with it in King County were born outside the U.S., primarily Southeast Asia, India, East Africa and Central America.

These days, public health officials worry about budget cuts that threaten core services, including TB control. “If we catch TB infection before it becomes active, treatment is cheaper and easier,” said Dr. Masa Narita, TB control officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Comments | More in General news | Topics: Public Health - Seattle & King County, Tuberculosis

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