South Carolina health officials won’t disclose the names of counties with confirmed cases of Zika virus, even as Georgia confirms three cases in neighboring Chatham County.
Robert Yanity, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said Friday the state is being “overly cautious” in order to protect the privacy of Zika patients. He admits releasing county-level information would not violate HIPAA, and that South Carolina developed its policy based on guidance, not requirements, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“At this point, they’re not health concerns,” Yanity said of Zika cases in the state. “There’s no reason to give out more information, and we want to protect the privacy of the people involved.”
One species of mosquito found in Beaufort County, aedes albopictus, is capable of spreading the virus by biting a person who is sick, becoming infected and biting other people. That means people who are sick with Zika should use bug spray, wear long sleeves and pants, and avoid prime biting hours to prevent the virus from spreading.
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The county’s Mosquito Control Program is still awaiting test results to determine whether local insects have Zika. To date, the only cases of local transmission in the United States — people contracting Zika after being bitten by local mosquitoes — have occurred in Florida.
All of South Carolina’s 41 cases resulted from travel to areas where Zika is active, officials say.
Still, Yanity maintained a travel-related case “doesn’t present a health issue at that time” and that releasing more information could lead to news media tracking down patients.
“I see it in the news all the time, when people have been located — with news trucks on their doorsteps — with very little information,” Yanity said. “We do not want any potential of these people being tracked down.”
When asked, Yanity could not provide an example of a case in which news media tracked down a patient with only the knowledge of their county.
Georgia follows a different protocol by releasing county-level figures on Zika cases.
On Thursday, the Georgia Coastal Health District — a division of the Georgia Department of Public Health — told news media for the first time that it had six confirmed travel-related cases in its eight counties.
On Friday, spokeswoman Sally Silverman said state health officials haven’t been hiding the information. They simply weren’t asked until this week, when Georgia Southern University notified its students that a Bulloch County resident had tested positive for Zika, she said.
Bulloch County is in the Southeast Health District.
In the Coastal Health District, there are three cases across the Savannah River from South Carolina in Chatham County, one case each in Camden, Liberty and Long counties, and none in Bryan, Effingham, Glynn or McIntosh counties, according to Silverman.
She added that residents should do everything they can to prevent the spread of the virus, including frequently emptying any containers that collect standing water to discourage mosquito breeding.
“We’re living it, breathing it, preaching the protection part of it every day,” she said.
When asked about Georgia’s practice, Yanity said he would discuss South Carolina’s policy with DHEC’s legal team. He did not have additional information late Friday.
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