A Washington State woman who has refused to receive treatment for tuberculosis for more than a year remains at large three months after a civil warrant was issued for her arrest, officials said this week.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department said on Monday that the woman, identified as V.N. in court documents, was still refusing treatment and that a judge on Friday extended the civil warrant he had issued in February authorizing law enforcement to detain her.
Sometime after that, the woman was seen leaving her home and taking a city bus to a local casino, according to a court filing in April. A lawyer for V.N. did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The Health Department said this was only the third time in the past 20 years that it had had to seek a court order to detain a patient refusing treatment for TB, the second-leading infectious killer worldwide after Covid-19. TB, a disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which spreads from infected people through the air, killed 1.6 million people in 2021, according to the World Health Organization.
A local officer with the Health Department, who was not named, had “determined, or has reason to believe” that the woman still had TB, according to a May 10 court filing. It was not clear from the county’s latest statement what her condition was this week.
In a hearing on Friday, Judge Philip Sorensen of the Pierce County Superior Court extended the arrest warrant that he first issued on Feb. 24.
Judge Sorensen had said in the February order that he was issuing the warrant after the woman had refused or failed to comply with previous orders to take medication or isolate herself. He also said she had not “resumed treatment,” suggesting that the woman had at one point taken the medication.
Sgt. Darren Moss, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, said in an email on Tuesday that the woman was not in custody.
“I cannot give out any information as to how we are trying to locate her, where we are looking or any other details as it can ruin the efforts by our deputies,” he said.
If the warrant is acted on, the woman would be detained in a Pierce County facility. At the facility, she would receive testing and treatment until it is determined that she does not present a threat to public health.
Patricia Jackson, chief of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Corrections Bureau, said in an April court filing that she had ordered surveillance of the woman to obtain information so that officers could conduct a safe arrest.
That came after an officer saw her going to a local casino, the filing said. The officer said that in the following days, the woman was not at home and that her family members did not respond to efforts to contact them. Ms. Jackson said in the filing that she had directed the officer to stop surveillance until a later date.
On May 1, a person who identified himself as the woman’s son called the Health Department, according to court filings, and asked if his mother had missed her hearing and when the next hearing would be held. The next hearing is scheduled for June 23.
There are about 20 cases of active TB each year in Pierce County and active, untreated infections are a risk to the community, according to the Health Department. Symptoms depend on where in the body the infection is and can include a bad cough that lasts three weeks or longer, fatigue, weight loss and fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most people fully recover from TB with medication, but if it is untreated, it can result in death.