150 will undergo tuberculosis testing at USF after possible exposure to disease

TAMPA — A group of about 150 University of South Florida students, faculty, staff and community members will get tuberculosis testing after a possible case of the disease turned up earlier this week, health officials said.

A student earlier this week was found to have what experts believe is tuberculosis. He has since been placed in isolation and given tuberculosis drug therapy, according to the Hillsborough County Health Department.

Health officials did not identify the student due to federal privacy laws.

Tuberculosis is a serious — sometimes fatal — disease that typically affects the lungs but can affect other parts of the body.

The bacteria that causes the disease is airborne and can be spread when an infected person coughs, talks, sings or sneezes. It cannot be spread by direct contact, such as shaking someone's hand, sharing food or drink, touching the same surfaces, sharing toothbrushes or kissing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The possibly infected student "no longer poses a health risk to others," officials said in a statement Friday.

In order to determine who may have been exposed to the disease, health investigators looked at what classes the student was in, where he lives and his activities, said Steve Huard, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Health Department.

"This is pretty much TB investigation 101," Huard said. "The good thing is TB's been around for a long time, so we know how this disease is spread, we know who's at risk and we know how to treat it."

Heath officials expect up to 10 percent of those screened will test positive for tuberculosis, Huard said.

Those who do will be referred to the county's TB clinic, where they will undergo medical background checks, screenings and counseling.

Those infected with active tuberculosis may experience a bad, long-lasting cough, pain in the chest, coughing up blood, weakness, fatigue, weight loss, chills, fever or night sweats, according to the CDC. However, the illness does not always cause sickness.

In most cases, the immune system is able to fight the bacteria in time to stop them from growing, according to the CDC. This causes what is known as latent TB.

The only sign of a latent TB infection is a positive reaction to a skin or blood test.

Latent tuberculosis is not contagious and only poses a health risk if a person contracts other diseases that break down the immune system, allowing TB bacteria to become active and grow out of control.

"Nobody's life is at risk here," Huard said. "It's very treatable."

By midafternoon Friday, the news of the infection had spread throughout the USF community. Some students said they'd like to know more details about the infected student — whether he lives on or off campus and what department he's in.

"It's an airborne disease," said freshman Maria Mitchell, 19. "I'm a little worried because I don't know who it is, or where it may have spread."

But most students said they did not feel vulnerable to the disease.

"I'm not worried," said graduate student Frank Ao, 25. "It's a big campus, and TB isn't as serious a threat anymore."

Parents, students said, would probably feel differently. Many said they wouldn't be reporting home about the incident.

"My family just watched the movie Contagion," said freshman Cristina Vasquez, 18. "So, I imagine this bit of information wouldn't go over too well."

USF students and employees with concerns about their exposure to the bacteria can call the Student Health Services nurse line at (813) 974-1797. TB testing appointments can be made at Student Health Services by calling (813) 974-2331.

Anyone who is not a student or employee at USF has been asked to direct concerns to the Hillsborough County Health Department at (813) 307-8047.

Contact Marissa Lang at mlang@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386.

150 will undergo tuberculosis testing at USF after possible exposure to disease 02/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 11, 2012 12:06am]

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