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Florida DOH Investigating TB Case at Raines High School

Rhema Thompson

The Florida Department of Health in Duval County is currently investigating a local high school after a student at the school was hospitalized for tuberculosis.

Officials at the health department said they will evaluate about 150 students and staff at William Raines High School who were potentially exposed to the disease after a student began exhibiting symptoms.

Duval County Health Department Director Dr. Kelli Wells said the student, whose identity is being withheld due to federal patient privacy laws, was initially diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia in November. Last week, the student was evaluated again and diagnosed with TB, Wells said.

She said the health department received confirmation of the diagnosis on Saturday.

"One of the reasons the diagnosis is missed very often is that it has such a long incubation period, so the time of exposure to the time that you have symptoms can be as long as three months," she said. "So oftentimes, we miss it because it looks like a bacterial infection or it looks like regular pneumonia that you treat with antibiotics."

TB is a disease caused by germs that spread through the air from an infected person with active disease to individuals in very close contact for long periods of time. TB germs are often spread when a person with the disease coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings. People who breathe in air that contains those germs can become infected. The disease usually affects the lungs, but it can affect other parts of the body.

The student is currently on medication and in stable condition, Wells said.

The health department said it has notified school officials, students and families of attending students of the situation.  Free  TB screening for students and their families will be available at the school Wednesday and Thursday.

"We are going to be making ourselves available to students and parents for testing to be certain that students have not been exposed or infected and if infected, are adequately treated," Wells said.

Sharon Broughton's grandson attends Raines High School. She said a relative received news of the TB case via text message around noon Tuesday.

"I'm scared...because we have little ones at the house and if he got infected that means the whole family would be infected," she said.

Broughton said after hearing the news, she's hesitant to send her grandson back to school, but she believes he should be screened.

Wells said at this point, the chances of additional students contracting the disease at the school  is slim.

"The risk of exposure is past because the child...after diagnosis is now on medication and no longer contagious, so the time that keeping your child out would've kept your child from being exposed is long past," she said.

Symptoms of TB include feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever, night sweats, coughing, chest pain, and coughing up blood.

The health department will offer free testing at Raines High School from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. to noon Thursday. Additional screening will be offered at the department's office  at Central Health Plaza on 6th Street during normal business hours.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.