Federal HIPAA laws put into place nearly two years ago prevent doctors/hospitals from releasing names in order to protect patients' privacy. Health departments, though, can override that law if they think releasing a name will help address a public health threat.
"We would only release the name if we thought there was a public health reason to do so," health director Rosemary Summers said. "In this case, we were able to reliably contact and trace all the people he or she had been in contact with."
Amy Grantham is one of hundreds of UNC students who took the antibiotic Cipro to protect herself against meningitis, just to be safe.
"Just because they live in my dorm, there may be a reason. I met them or had close contact with them. I'm just not sure," she said.
This week, a student living in Morrison Residence Hall was diagnosed with the disease, which is contagious through close personal contact. Students said the problem is figuring out if they know the person.
"It's hard to tell if you've had close contact with [the student] if you don't know who [the student] is," student Stephanie Mazzucca said.
Orange County health officials know who the student is, but they are not telling.
Last fall, UNC freshman Jonathan Davis, who was diagnosed with meningitis, was so sick it was hard to get detailed information from him. Health officials found out through others that Davis had been to various parties and functions when he was not feeling well.
As a result, Davis' name was released and a health alert was issued at both N.C. State and UNC. About 2,000 students heeded the call for precautions.
"In that case, it was a public health necessity to release the name," Summers said.
Students worried about meningitis can still get the antibiotic, but county health officials do not think it's necessary.
"We're confident we traced all the contacts the students was able to identify for us," Summers said.
In this case, the student developed symptoms the night they returned from winter break and went to the health center right away, so health workers think the person had little contact with other students on campus. So far, 600 students have taken the antibiotic. No other cases have been reported.
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