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Health department investigating tuberculosis case in a Largo school

LARGO — The Pinellas County Health Department is investigating a report of active tuberculosis in a Mavericks High Charter School employee.

Staff and parents of students enrolled at the 423-pupil Largo campus were notified about the situation in letters that were sent out starting on Wednesday.

A total of 100 people believed to have been in direct contact with the patient are being notified in letters that went out on Friday that they should be tested.

But in a press conference Friday, Pinellas Health Department director Dr. Claude Dharamraj said there is no reason for panic.

"There is no TB outbreak in Pinellas County," Dharamraj said. "We are investigating one case in one school … Everything is under control."

Tuberculosis is a serious, sometimes fatal disease that typically affects the lungs. The bacteria that causes the disease is airborne and can be spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, laughs, talks or sings.

However, it usually takes exposure to a person with active TB for a while — 6 to 8 hours — to contract the disease.

Andrea Castillo, a surveillance program manager with the health department, said the last known exposure the infected employee had with those in the school community occurred in mid to late June. It has taken until now to trace the patient's possible contacts to determine how many people need testing, she said.

The patient is being treated and is no longer considered contagious, but officials are looking at possible contacts during the first half of the year.

Susan Latvala, board chairwoman for Mavericks charter schools in Pinellas, said leaders of the school have known of the case for several weeks, but did not notify staff until the health department could investigate.

"I am thrilled with the way it's been handled," said Latvala, who also is a Pinellas County commissioner. "The health department has been holding our hand through the whole process."

It is not known whether the strain of tuberculosis detected is the same one implicated in a recent cluster near Jacksonville, but test results are pending.

"At this time … I have no reason to believe it is in connection with the same strain in Jacksonville," Dharamraj said.

According to the Florida Department of Health, 753 cases were reported in the state last year, 10 percent fewer than the prior two years. There have been 10 reported active cases in Pinellas so far this year, 26 in 2011 and 33 in 2010.

Officials in Hillsborough County still are investigating a presumed case of tuberculosis involving an employee of MacDill Air Force Base.

Pinellas residents concerned about exposure to tuberculosis should call the Health Department at (727) 824-6932 to learn more about testing locations.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@tampabay.com.

Health department investigating tuberculosis case in a Largo school 07/27/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 27, 2012 8:37pm]

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