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NC waited before disclosing meningitis outbreak

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 21, 2013 at 9:29 am •  Published: January 21, 2013

Such warnings are distributed through the N.C. Health Alert Network (HAN), which goes out to doctors, hospitals and other critical health care providers.

But Moore expressed concerns about timing.

"I could send it now, but doubtful many would see it before tomorrow morning, and we might have other pertinent info to share after the call," he wrote.

After Moore's email, Megan Davies, chief of North Carolina's epidemiology section, asked questions about where the North Carolina patient was admitted and, when they found out, to inform the local health director. She also said they would need to send out an alert.

By the next morning, North Carolina officials knew three clinics had received the tainted medicine.

On Friday, the state agency sent out a HAN message, warning providers to be on the lookout for fungal meningitis cases.

It's unclear how many people actually saw it because it was sent late Friday afternoon and went out as a "low priority" health alert, according to an email.

Over the weekend, state health officials exchanged emails with the CDC — including an ominous one. CDC's Rachel Smith asked if public health officials in North Carolina had the power to request an autopsy and examination if the 77-year-old woman died. "Something to think about pending the outcome of this case," she wrote.

By that Monday, state health officials knew they had to publicly address the emerging crisis.

At 10:32 a.m., Davies sent an email to several agency officials saying director Laura Gerald wanted to send out a news release.

"She is concerned that we need to make every effort to communicate to people potentially exposed," Davies said.

She added one more thing: Tennessee health officials would be releasing more information that day — but this time they would mention the North Carolina case.

In the afternoon, Davies informed Gerald they were still working on the news release, but said the number of possible patients exposed was up to 94.

Meanwhile, one North Carolina hospital was bracing for negative publicity.

Rita Bunch, senior director at the High Point Regional Health System, wrote that word was beginning to spread that the meningitis outbreak had spread to North Carolina. The 77-year-old woman, who later died, was a patient at the High Point, N.C., hospital.

"Not sure where you are on the release from N.C. but I think we want to get in front of this before someone finds out it (was) HP and we are behind it," Bunch wrote an email sent at 5:39 p.m.

The state agency released the information to the public later that Monday, saying it was assisting the CDC in its meningitis investigation, and that one case had been identified in North Carolina. Officials also warned people who had received injections to be on the lookout for symptoms, which included headache, stiff neck and fatigue.