“We have worked with family and community members for more than a year to do everything we can to persuade this woman to take her medication to protect herself and our community,” said Nigel Turner, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s director of communicable disease control, in a statement.
Health officials brought the issue before the county court for the 16th time on Feb. 24. “As a last possible resort, Judge Philip Sorenson found the woman with TB in civil contempt for refusing to comply with his order that she either resume taking her medication or voluntarily isolate herself,” Turner said.
As of Saturday evening, the woman had not been detained, Darren Moss, spokesman for the Pierce County Sherriff’s Department, told The Washington Post.
Sorenson’s warrant authorized law enforcement to detain the unidentified woman and transport her to a facility in Pierce County for isolation, testing and treatment.
“Respondent’s objections to the Order of February 24, 2023 are noted, preserved, and deemed insufficient to alter the Court’s order,” Sorenson stated, adding that those transporting her should be aware that they are handling “a patient with active tuberculosis and appropriate precautions should be taken.”
It is unclear why the woman, who is identified in court documents as V.N., has refused to isolate or receive treatment.
Sarah Tofflemire, the woman’s court-appointed defense attorney, told The Post that “since this is both a case concerning confidential health-care information and an ongoing matter, I cannot provide any further comment.”
In court filings, Tofflemire said the woman “has not acknowledged the existence of her own medical condition,” the News Tribune reported. During court proceedings, the woman spoke “out of turn with rapid, disorganized speech,” the filing added, according to the paper. “She has repeatedly threatened suicide in relationship to papers being served upon her home.”
The defense attorney requested that the court appoint a guardian for the woman.
The woman represents a “rare instance” in which a patient has refused to take medication for the infectious disease or remain in isolation, health officials said. This is the third time in 20 years that the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has sought a court order to detain a contagious patient who has refused tuberculosis treatment.
Tuberculosis is the 13th leading cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization. There were 7,882 cases in the United States in 2021, one of the lowest tuberculosis rates in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC credits that low rate to investments in domestic programs that monitor and treat the disease.
Tuberculosis is spread through the air, from person to person. Symptoms can include coughing, chest pain, fever, weight loss and night sweats. The disease usually attacks the lungs, but it can affect other parts of the body as well.