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Washington woman with tuberculosis detained after refusing treatment

A judge issued a civil arrest warrant after the woman refused to isolate and get treatment.

TACOMA, Wash. — A Tacoma woman with tuberculosis was detained by Pierce County deputies June 1 after previously refusing to isolate and get treatment.

She was detained at her home and booked into a negative pressure room in Pierce County Jail. The room is equipped for isolation, testing and treatment, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Nigel Turner with the Pierce County Health Department said they always look for alternatives to detainment, but "in this case it was impossible."

"We are hopeful she will choose to get the life-saving treatment she needs to treat her tuberculosis," the health department wrote on its blog.

The first order for involuntary detention was issued on Jan. 18, 2022.

Judge Philip Sorenson then issued a civil arrest warrant that authorized law enforcement to detain her beginning March 3.

In April, the woman was found in contempt of court orders after continuing to refuse treatment.

According to court documents, an officer with the Pierce County Corrections Bureau surveilled the woman's home in March. The officer saw the woman leave on a city bus, which dropped her off at a casino. Since then, the woman appeared not to be home. Additionally, her family members were unresponsive when the officer reached out.

Pierce County Corrections Bureau Chief Patricia Jackson wrote in a court declaration that they believed the woman was "actively avoiding" police.

Information on the woman and her condition is limited.

“Everything is under lock and key," said Sgt. Daren Moss with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. "The courts have ruled that her privacy is important.”

This case is the third in 20 years where the health department has sought a court order to detain someone who is potentially contagious and refusing to seek treatment for tuberculosis. 

"In each case like this, we are constantly balancing risk to the public and the civil liberties of the patient," the March statement from the health department reads. "We are always hopeful a patient will choose to comply voluntarily. Seeking to enforce a court order through a civil arrest warrant is always our last resort."

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department sees about 20 cases of active tuberculosis a year. State law requires healthcare providers to report all active cases.

Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that often affect the lungs. It is spread through the air. Symptoms, according to the World Health Organization, include cough, fever, night sweats and weight loss.

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