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Student suspected to have tuberculosis, 150 others to be tested

USF studentsreceived an email from Deanof Students Kevin Banks Friday morning at 5:33 a.m., informing them that one of their peers was believed to have a case of tuberculosis.

“Before you hear about it on the news and possibly worry unnecessarily, I wanted to give you a heads up that a presumed case of tuberculosis (TB) was recently uncovered here onthe Tampa campus of USF,” he wrote. “Under the direction and care of the Hillsborough County Health Department, as a precautionary measure, the student has been isolated, is being treated and is no longer a health risk to others.”

Hillsborough County Health Department’s Public Information Officer Steve Huard said the county was first alerted of the case last weekend and met with USF officials Tuesday to discuss the situation.

Though the student’s name could not be released due to medical privacy and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) laws, 150 students, faculty and staff determined to be in close contact with the student were notified before the official announcement was made and encouraged to receive free TB testing from the county.

“We were able to talk to the engineers and determine the air flow and air change rate of the classrooms and what not, to determine the people most likely to have been affected,” Huard said. “For the main student body, faculty and staff, the risk is very low.”

Huard said TB is not easily spread and students should not panic.

“The thing that people really need to understand about this is that the disease doesn’t live outside, and that UV light kills it,” he said. “The only way to get sick with TB is if you’ve been in close contact with somebody who has active TB, and in many cases, it’s being in very close contact. It’s spread by droplet basically – if someone is coughing or talking or singing, if human projectiles are coming out.”

Joseph Puccio, medical director for Student Health Services, said a nurse hotline opened last Friday and will remain open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Friday to address any student concerns regarding the case. Students can call the hotline at 813-974-1797.

Because the disease takes a while to manifest itself, Puccio said there is little reason to worry.

“When someone has TB, there are two phases,” he said. “If someone gets that bacteria, that bacteria usually settles somewhere in the body, most of the time in the respiratory tract, and it stays there inactive and non-contagious for what could be years or decades. And then if your immune system becomes frail or malnourished, it could progress over to active disease. It’s usually not something that goes from immediate exposure to active phase.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TB, an airborne disease that typically afflicts the lungs, cannot be spread by someone who has the dormant form of the disease.

Huard said he expects around 10 percent of the exposed 150 to test positive for the disease. Those who do will be referred to the Hillsborough County Health Department for further testing, but would likely remain non-contagious.

Puccio said it would be “extremely rare” for someone with casual exposure to the student to contract TB. The disease rarely manifests immediately unless anindividual has a weakened, or “immuno-compromised,” immune system, he said.

“It’s an important health issue that needs to be attended to, but it’s not a crisis,” he said. “TB is such a long-forming disease that there’s no emergency to start antibiotics right away or that you need to know right away because your life will be threatened. TB is something we can deal with, and we’ll deal with in a calm, orderly fashion.”

Though the 150 identified individuals will not be forced to be tested for the disease, those who do will be referred to the health department for further screening and receive additional tests in eight to 12 weeks.

The student is still enrolled in the University and has begun therapy.