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Lakeland meningitis case unlikely to affect playoffs

One of the biggest football rivalries in Polk County, Lakeland vs. Kathleen, will not be played Friday because one of Lakeland's players has been diagnosed with viral meningitis.

The news is of some concern to Hillsborough County because Lakeland played Bloomingdale and Plant City the past two weeks and is scheduled to play at Hillsborough High in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 14.

"There is concern, but there is no reason for alarm in Hillsborough County," Hillsborough County school board spokesman Mark Hart said. "We did think it prudent to contact the health department (on Tuesday), make sure the school nurses are in the loop and provide the schools with information so that they can answer parent questions that may arise.

"There have been no symptomatic cases in (Hillsborough County). We're going to have to monitor it. And as of now, I haven't heard anything about a cancellation of the (Hillsborough-Lakeland playoff game). We will keep a close eye on the situation in Lakeland in the coming days."

Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said he talked to Lakeland coach Bill Castle on Wednesday, and all indications are the playoff game is on.

"Coach Castle told me he expected everything to be taken care of by next week," Garcia said. "So we're planning on playing Lakeland. We feel confident that if the health officials in Polk County say it's okay, then we'll be okay. We think that is what's going to happen."

Polk County health director Daniel Haight said the Lakeland player is recuperating at home. Another three Lakeland players are hospitalized at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, all suspected of having the disease and awaiting lab results, The Ledger of Lakeland reported.

Several other players and one of the team's coaches also are being monitored because they have shown symptoms associated with the disease. Under normal conditions, viral meningitis is significantly less contagious than the bacterial strain of the disease, which can cause death up to 20 percent of the time. Viral meningitis symptoms include fever, irritability and erratic sleeping and eating patterns and is often misdiagnosed as a cold or flu.

There is no specific treatment for viral meningitis, which is an infection of the thin lining covering the brain and spinal cord.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.