Tacoma, WA – A Tacoma woman was arrested late last week after she refused to submit to tuberculosis (TB) treatment for more than one year and ignored 17 court orders mandating she comply.
TB is easily transmitted and potentially deadly if left untreated, and therefore presents a serious risk to the public, according to KOMO.
Health officials are able to seek a court order under Washington state law to compel infected patients to comply treatment, which was what happened in this case.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD) said most infected people want treatment, and noted this was only the third time in 20 years that they ended up going to court to obtain an order mandating treatment, KOMO reported.
A Pierce County judge ordered the woman to comply with treatment for the 17th time last month, according to KOMO.
The judge gave her until May 22 at 5 p.m. to voluntarily self-quarantine and begin treatment through July 6.
Failure to do so would result in her being taken to jail to be isolated and treated there, according to the order.
The woman again refused to comply.
“The judge has ordered her to take the medication, to self-isolate, and since she didn’t do any of those things they issued a civil warrant for her arrest,” Pierce County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD) Sergeant Darren Moss told KOMO.
The woman then allegedly went into hiding, and her family refused to help law enforcement in their effort to locate her, according to investigators.
Deputies ultimately tracked her down at her home in Tacoma on June 1 and took her into custody, KOMO reported.
“The vehicle we used to transport her had his own contained air that wouldn’t infect the cabin of the vehicle, so that way our transporting deputies also weren’t exposed to tuberculosis,” Sgt. Moss said.
She was subsequently transported to the Pierce County jail and isolated in a negative pressure room to begin TB treatment, KOMO reported.
“Law enforcement transported this patient to the Pierce County Jail,” the TPCHD said in a press release after the arrest was made. “She will be housed in a room specially equipped for isolation, testing and treatment. We are hopeful she will choose to get the life-saving treatment she needs to treat her tuberculosis.”
“Thank you to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the deputies who supported public health with this necessary intervention,” the health department added.
Sgt. Moss said TB used to be commonplace in the jail facility, so the equipment necessary to ensure the woman’s isolation was already in place, KOMO reported.
“That’s why our jail has negative pressure rooms,” the sergeant said. “Basically, what that does is isolate the air within that room so it doesn’t infect the rest of the rooms within the facility.”
TB treatment generally takes between three and nine months, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
It is unclear how long the woman will remain in custody.
“There’s no sentencing. It’s not a criminal case. The prosecutor’s office is not involved,” Sgt. Moss told WAVE. “So, this is going to be dependent upon her care, the court’s decisions, and the health department.”