So far, two people in North Carolina have been diagnosed with West Nile virus this summer. This week, the state reported its first death due to the mosquito-borne virus. Debbie Crane, of the state Health and Human Services Department, said the victim was over the age of 50, but she is not releasing any more information about the case despite the public health concern.
"It doesn't matter because their right to know is that they could be exposed to West Nile virus and we have certainly made that point very clear," she said.
Crane cites state law that says they can keep information and records that identify a person confidential. Crane said releasing the victim's hometown would identify him because he lives in a rural county. Some people feel the public needs to know more.
"I just think people are concerned," said Amanda Martin, an attorney for the North Carolina Press Association. "If I lived in the county where this death happened and I had children, for example, I would not want my children out at dawn or dusk in the hours that are most at-risk and I would say, 'No, You can't go outside if I knew I were that close to where this incident occurred."
Martin said the public does not need to know the victim's name, but people should know where the incident happened even if it is everywhere. Martin said changes in the health insurance privacy laws nationally have caused people to be more cautious with patient information.
Last summer, the Health and Human Services Department did report the counties where two infections occurred because they said those counties were very populated and it would not give away the person's identity.
So far this year, 197 people acros the country have become infected with West Nile virus. Colorado tops the list with 72. Of those, 1 case was fatal. Two people have died of West Nile in Oklahoma and two others died in Alabama.