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TB case identified at Lakewood Ranch High School

MANATEE — Students at two Manatee County schools may have been exposed to someone diagnosed with active tuberculosis, health and school officials announced today.

An individual at Lakewood Ranch High School has been diagnosed with active tuberculosis, officials said at a morning press conference. Health department Director Dr. Gladys Branic could not release any information or what possible contact that person might have had with students because of federal privacy laws.

The sick person is under treatment and can no longer spread the disease, said Branic, who sought to assure worried parents.

“TB is a treatable, curable and preventable disease that is very, very difficult to acquire,” Branic said. “My heart goes out to the individual affected and their family members and I am praying for a fast and speedy recovery.”

Health and school officials began Thursday to identify people at the high school and a small number of students at Nolan Middle School who have had close contact with the person who has been diagnosed. The process is still ongoing, Branic said.

Exposed contacts will be notified by the end of the school day on Tuesday via a letter sent home from Lakewood Ranch High School. The letter will include a consent form for testing which must be completed and returned to the school by Thursday.

A small number of exposed contacts at Nolan also will be notified by the end of school day on Tuesday.

Those close contacts will receive free of charge a tuberculin skin test beginning April 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They will also be retested in eight to 10 weeks. Those who test positive will need to have a chest X-ray provided free of charge by the health department.

A close contact is defined as someone who spent eight to 10 hours in a very small, poorly ventilated space with the infected person, said Jan Hinz, who is charge of the health department’s TB program.

“We’ve got a good plan in place,” said Forrest Branscomb, the school district’s risk manager. “All Nolan and Lakewood Ranch students will receive letters about the TB case to take home today and we will have a forum from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Lakewood Ranch High School.”

Hinz stressed the importance of following procedures developed by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to determine who may have been exposed.

“When we have a TB case, we look at those people who are very close to that person,” Hinz said. “If we find a large number of people among those very close contacts, we go out to the next level of close contacts, say people at church or friends.”

Tuberculosis is a disease that usually affects the lungs and is spread through the air when a person diagnosed with an active disease coughs, sneezes, laughs or sings, Hinz said. TB can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys or the spine.

Symptoms may include feeling weak or sick, weight loss, fever and/or night sweats. Symptoms of TB of the lungs may include cough, chest pain and/or coughing up blood. Other symptoms depend on the particular part of the body that is affected.

About eight million new cases occur each year in the world and over 13,000 cases are reported in the United States. There also are an estimated 10 to 15 million people in the U.S. who are infected with the TB germ, with potential to develop TB disease in the future.

Parents can call the Manatee County Health Department at (941) 748-0747, ext. 1264 for more information, Monday through Friday. Over the weekend, parents can call (941) 720-4935.

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