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Editorial: NC HHS dropping the ball on Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak

030910_1603_HealthRefor1.jpgIn case you missed it, there’s been a very worrisome outbreak of the deadly infection known as Legionnaire’s Disease in Wilson County with at least 11 individuals contracting the disease. Unfortunately, as today’s editorial in the Wilson Times notes, the response of the North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (and its policies for notifying the public do not appear to be up to snuff):

“Since earlier in June the number of cases in Wilson went from one to 11 and from one location to more. Last year 12 percent of all the Legionnaires cases reported in the entire state of North Carolina were in Wilson County.

We commend our local Department of Health for reacting quickly to the early reported cases and getting the word out to the public as quickly as possible. Wilson Pines, where most of the cases have been linked, was also quick to take action.

However, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t seem to have responded with the same sense of urgency. It received its first confirmation of a Legionnaires’ case back on June 19 at the state-run Longleaf-Neuro Medical Treatment Center.

At that point it was just one known case there and apparently policy is to not declare an outbreak until you have two confirmed cases at one location. The state didn’t get that second report until last Friday, June 27, letting the public know via press release on Saturday.

We are sure there was some reason for that policy, but we don’t really understand it. When there are already reports of Legionnaires in the same community we don’t see the benefit to the public of withholding information about another location until a second case happens in that same second facility. Enough cases have already been reported in a small enough area, at least in our mind….

Most times the best way to prevent concern is simply by being as open as possible about a problem as quickly as possible. Information quells fear. It doesn’t work the other way around.

The Wilson County Health Department has been quick so far with the information. The state is going to have to catch up.”

If recent DHHS performances on other issues are any indication, we shouldn’t hold our breath –even if the folks in Wilson may be tempted.

Read the entire by clicking here.

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