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Pinellas Park Student Suspected Of Tuberculosis

tuberculosis_sneezing.jpg
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A possible case of tuberculosis at Pinellas Park High School has prompted free testing for students, teachers and staff who may have had close contact with the 17-year-old who attends the school.

Students are being tested Monday and Tuesday after the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County was made aware of the case last week.

The bacterial infection mainly affects the lungs, but if left untreated, can cause damage in other parts of the body such as the kidney, spine and brain.

The disease is serious, but easily treated, said Maggie Hall, the public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

"If it's untreated, and that's what we see in some homeless populations or some parts of society, it can persist for years. It can even be fatal,” Hall said. “So the key is to get early, sound, reasonable treatment and to complete the whole course of medication."

She said there will be additional testing in a few weeks.  

“It does spread very slowly so even though we've started testing the close contacts this week— in fact we're doing testing today and tomorrow at the schools— we'll return in about 8-10 weeks to do additional tests because, again, you could be exposed and it could take a little bit for it to spread,” Hall said.

TB is spread through the air from one person to another when a person with TB in the lungs or throat coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings. People nearby can breathe in the bacteria and become infected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said TB is not spread by shaking someone's hand, sharing food or drink, touching bed linens or toilet seats, sharing toothbrushes or kissing.

In 2014, there were 25 reported cases of TB in Pinellas County. In February, the Florida Department of Health announced historic lows for the incidence of TB statewide. For four years in a row, cases have dropped about 29 percent.

The symptoms of TB may include:

  • A cough lasting three or more weeks that may produce discolored or bloody sputum
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Slight fever
  • Night sweats
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain with breathing or coughing

Information for parents about the TB investigation (in English and Spanish) is posted at http://www.pinellashealth.com.