Democrats question withholding blood infection information

April 30, 2016

 

MADISON - Assembly Democrats want to know why state health officials delayed telling people that a blood infection was spreading in Wisconsin.

The Department of Health Services began investigating an Elizabethkingia outbreak in December. The agency told hospitals to be on the lookout for infections in January but didn't announce it to the public until March.

Assembly Democratic leaders sent Gov. Scott Walker a letter Thursday asking for an explanation and how DHS will avoid "these systemic deficiencies."

DHS officials said this month that they didn't want to alarm the public because they hadn't determined the source, which limited advice on how to avoid infections. DHS spokeswoman Julie Lund re-emphasized that point in an email to The Associated Press on Friday, saying that early on the agency couldn't offer any information about the outbreak that would help with prevention.

"We carefully considered the impact of sharing what limited information we had," Lund wrote. "We alerted the public once we had a general understanding of who is most likely to be affected by this outbreak, the region where the outbreak is located, and how it can be successfully treated. This allowed us to be transparent, while limiting the risk of unwarranted, widespread fears."

She also stressed that there's been no infections involving children. Most of the people who were infected were over age 65 and all of them have serious, underlying health conditions. Of those infected, 19 people have died in Wisconsin, although it's unclear whether the infection or some other underlying condition killed them.

Walker spokesman Jack Jablonski said in his own email to The Associated Press that the governor approved nine additional DHS positions to help investigate the outbreak earlier this month. He said DHS officials would respond to the lawmakers and clarifying their facts.

Associated Press