- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - The Portland Press Herald on Tuesday sued the Maine Department of Health and Human Services over its refusal to identify schools where chickenpox outbreaks occurred.

The newspaper was rejected when it asked the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to identify the schools while reporting on the highest number of outbreaks since the chickenpox vaccine became mandatory for school attendance in 2003.

CDC officials said it denied the newspaper’s request because it might identify children who had the disease.

Cliff Schechtman, the newspaper’s executive editor, said the public has a right to know where the outbreaks occurred and that the CDC’s failure to identify the location of disease outbreaks puts people’s health at risk. “For those Mainers with compromised immune systems that decision can be tragic. Today it’s chicken pox. What if tomorrow it’s deadly meningitis?” he said.

Maine reported a total of 84 chickenpox cases this school year, nearly double the number during the previous year. Of those, 57 of the cases involved unvaccinated or undervaccinated children, state officials said.

Kevin Wells, the attorney for the Maine DHHS, wrote in a July 14 letter denying the newspaper’s Freedom of Access Act request for information on the outbreaks that “there is no valid public health purpose to releasing these records.” He said the virus is so common that “knowledge of the location of an outbreak would not assist a person from avoiding coming into contact with it.”

In at least three cases in the 2000s, the Maine CDC released the names of schools or the town where an outbreak took place, including one in 2006 that involved chickenpox in Brunswick, the newspaper reported.

But more recently, the Maine CDC has at times not released the location of infectious disease outbreaks, including refusing to name the restaurant where a Hepatitis A case occurred last fall.

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