PORT RICHEY — A student attending the Chasco elementary and middle school campus has been diagnosed with Pasco County's first confirmed case of swine flu.
The confirmation came late Wednesday, several days after the unidentified student had fully recovered and returned to school, according to the Pasco County Health Department. It can take weeks for labs to evaluate samples they receive, hence the delay.
School officials sent word to parents at 10 a.m. Thursday with an automated phone call, and then gave children a letter to take home at the end of the day. They had no plans to shut the schools.
In recent weeks, schools in Hillsborough, Broward and a handful of other Florida districts did close because of identified swine flu cases. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control has advised that shutting school doors for the highly contagious but so far mild illness was not necessary.
"We're working closely with the Health Department to ensure the continued safety of all students and staff," Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.
Health officials refused to release any potentially identifying information about the student, including the child's gender or grade level.
Deanna Krautner of the Pasco County Health Department's education division said the best course of action for parents is to keep their children home if they are feeling ill. They also should make sure that children wash their hands regularly, and that they cover their mouths and noses when they sneeze or cough.
That's the message the schools are sending out to parents and students, too.
Chasco Elementary principal Dolly Gauvey said she had all teachers reinforce proper hygiene lessons on Thursday. She also made sure every classroom had extra hand sanitizer and that teachers had access to disinfectant cleansers if needed.
The flu germs generally do not live more than three hours on a hard surface.
Chasco Middle principal Christine Wolff spoke of taking similar precautions.
Both principals said they had no unusual absences in the past few weeks, and that only a small number of parents had concerns about the news that came out Thursday.
"The majority said 'Thanks for the heads up,'" Wolff said. "I got only one call from a family concerned about why school was not closed."
Gauvey said she had one parent remove a child from school, just to be safe.
"School is pretty normal," she said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.