Public not notified of West Nile deaths until 5 have died

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - State health officials have yet to confirm West Nile Virus killed a Tangipahoa Parish man, but at what extent does public awareness supercede privacy protection?

Raymond Stevens, 79, died over the weekend. His wife says doctors told her the West Nile Virus killed him.

"The Department of Health and Human Services in Washington recommends that you do not give the numbers when it is less than five," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard. He says the DHH will release the number of deaths related to the West Nile Virus on Friday.

Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess says he can't tell the people in his Parish that the death is from West Nile, because the state hasn't said anything to him.

"I'm not being critical of anyone, but dad-gummit, when we might have an outbreak, I should have known about it," said Burgess.

When we asked Dr. Ratard why they have not released the number of deaths yet, he said "Our job is to protect the privacy of the people. When we have small numbers of people, we make sure we do not give too many details so the media can go and ask too many questions."

East Baton Rouge Coroner, Dr. Beau Clark, says by law, when someone dies from any contagious viral disease that could be a public hazard, his office should be notified. His interpretation of that includes the West Nile Virus.

"I have not had a West Nile case reported in this office since I've taken office in March," said Clark.

There have been no reports since the beginning of the year either. It is why he is drafting up a letter for the area physicians asking them to notify his office if there is a West Nile related death.

Even though Dr. Ratard won't release the numbers until Friday, he admits it is pertinent information.

"Reporting death of West Nile, it's important because it show it's a serious disease," said Ratard.

So far this year, the state has had 33 cases of West Nile, 16 of those are neuroinvasive.

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