Three Hillsborough schools are closed this week as health officials try to slow the spread of the swine flu outbreak, with cases now suspected across the Tampa Bay region.
Five probable cases of swine flu were reported Sunday in Hillsborough, the most of any county in Florida, while authorities continue to await test results on another suspected case in Pinellas County.
Results are still pending, too, on cultures from two Manatee County residents sent late last week to a state laboratory. However, Ron Cox, director of disease control for the Manatee County Health Department, said Thursday, “There is a low probability these are positive for the H1N1 virus.”
Meanwhile, the numbers continue to grow in Florida and beyond.
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By midday Sunday, the CDC confirmed 226 cases affecting 30 states.
Florida logged its third official case, a 14-year-old girl from Mexico who was visiting central Florida. She has returned to Mexico, authorities said. The state now has 15 probable cases from nine counties, according to the state Department of Health.
In Miami-Dade County, two Doral-area schools will be closed at least through Wednesday after three probable cases of swine flu were reported there.
In Hillsborough, the list of probable cases includes an 11-year-old boy at Wilson Middle School in South Tampa and four adults between the ages of 18 and 22, who are living around the county.
Authorities say the 15-year-old sibling of one of the adult victims is showing symptoms of swine flu. Last week, she was in class at New Tampa’s Freedom High, which shares a cafeteria with Liberty Middle.
All three schools are closed for the week.
Authorities acknowledged that sending nearly 4,000 Hillsborough students home for the week will be difficult for working parents. They don’t want these children getting together at malls, movies or daycare centers.
Still, Dr. Doug Holt, director of the Hillsborough Health Department, said the unknown dangers of the H1N1 virus, commonly called swine flu, demanded acting quickly and with extraordinary caution.
Beginning this morning, cleaning crews will scrub the cafeterias, media centers and other common areas at Freedom High, and Wilson and Liberty middle schools. The effort will focus on places touched by many students — like hand rails and bus seats.
The Manatee County School District is continuing to monitor the situation, even more so now with probable cases just to the north in Hillsborough.
“We’ve been monitoring this very closely,” said Margi Nanney, the district’s public information officer said Sunday. “We’ll be very vigilant about following the direction of the health department.”
The Hillsborough closings
The decision to close the schools touched off a flurry of activity late Sunday.
School officials are making arrangements for Freedom students to make up the nationally administered Advanced Placement exams that begin this week, Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said.
Extracurricular activities are canceled. Public health officials said siblings of the affected students can attend classes Monday, so long as they are healthy. Regardless of whether their school is open or closed, sick students should stay home.
The district is working to get lessons posted to school Web sites by this afternoon. The principals will be placed in district offices, with school phone numbers redirected there, so they can answer questions from parents.
They will not, however, reveal the identities of the sick students.
“We’re going to assume that everybody had contact, hence the reason the schools are closed,” Freedom principal Christopher Farkas said.
Officials are urging people to contact their doctor if they have flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough and sore throat.
— The St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald contributed to this report.