A woman in Washington state is continuing to wander around with untreated tuberculous, evading a warrant out for her arrest. The anonymous woman, known only as “VN” in court documents, has been defying court orders for over a year that demands she stays in her home and seeks treatment for TB, which is both contagious and potentially fatal.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD) said on Monday the individual was still on the lam, refusing treatment. As such, a local judge extended the civil warrant that authorizes law enforcement to detain her.
Worryingly, authorities suspect the person still has tuberculosis and, therefore, is a risk to public health because she is infectious.
According to local media outlet The News Tribune, representatives from the TPCHD reportedly filed a petition earlier this month that read: “The local health officer for the TPCHD has determined, or has reason to believe, that the respondent continues to be infected with tuberculosis, which is a deadly infectious disease that could spread to, infect, and jeopardize the lives of others if respondent is not detained for testing and treatment for a period not to exceed 45 days.”
“Denise Stinson, R.N., has determined that V.N. has not remained in her residence in accord with the court’s orders, nor has she treated or tested to determine the status of her tuberculosis infection,” it added.
Since January 2022, the TPCHD has been looking for a woman living in Pierce County with a confirmed case of tuberculosis. As of February 2023, there’s been an active civil warrant for the woman’s arrest.
However, the woman is still failing to comply with authorities. A court filing in April 2023 even stated that she was spotted taking a bus to a local casino.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a highly contagious disease that usually affects the lungs, although it can spread to the kidneys, brain, spine, and skin. Typical symptoms included a prolonged cough, chest pain, tiredness, weakness, fever, and weight loss. In terms of fatalities, it's the second-leading infection after COVID-19, killing over a million people each year, according to the World Health Organization.
Fortunately, it is relatively easy to treat with antibiotics – which is partially why the ongoing situation in Pierce County is proving to be so frustrating for both local residents and the authorities.
“This has reached the point of ridiculousness. In fact, it’s far surpassed it,” Matt Driscoll, the opinion editor for The News Tribune, wrote in an article on May 20.
“The inability to successfully locate and isolate the woman suggests that, in this case, systemic public health failures have occurred,” he wrote. However, it also brings up the ethical murky waters of forcing treatment on someone who doesn't want it for the safety of others. As a contagious and potentially fatal disease, it is a threat to the general public, but as COVID-19 vaccinations demonstrated, sometimes that is not an incentive for people and public health officials have no authority over individuals.