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Letter From the Editor: Has Gov. LePage Broken Maine CDC?

Opinion

Anybody who has ever traveled in Maine has probably heard a story like the one about coming to a rural fork in the road.

From the map, it might appear that both roads end up in about the same place, but because there is an old man working alongside the road, you ask, “Does it make any difference which road I take?” “Not to me,” he responds.

Such an indifferent response is not unusual in Maine. Worse, it’s election season, and the three-way campaign for governor of Maine appears to be a contest of the blockheads, in which incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage seems willing to say and do anything to win.

He and his top state public health official are willing to set aside the effective and commonly practiced public health strategy for combating Hepatitis A in favor of doing something stupid and political.

Paul LePage

And this has nothing to do with Ebola or LePage’s failed attempt to keep nurse Kaci Hickox confined to in-home quarantine. No, this concerns a food service worker infected with Hepatitis A, which is far more easily transmissible than Ebola. The infected worker was on the job at a Maine restaurant from Sept. 29 to Oct. 11.

Now, as every Food Safety News reader well knows from reading stories about controlling Hepatitis A, what should happen next is a no-brainer. Sane and responsible public health officials name the restaurant, along with publicizing the dates of possible exposure, and folks think about whether they might be involved in the group that should line up for vaccines.

Somehow, Maine CDC this past week basically took another road, essentially a statewide warning about Hepatitis A. It did not take the road of warning patrons of the specific restaurant involved because Maine CDC claims it did not know the dates of the exposure until after the 14-day period during which getting vaccines is most effective.

But, there’s always been some good journalism practiced in Maine, and this indifference is not going without notice. Whether it plays any role in the outcome of Tuesday’s election remains to be seen.

The long-time director of Maine CDC, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, told local media outlets that, during her 15-year tenure, the agency released the locations where exposures might have occurred to protect the public health of people who may still be at risk. Mills left in 2011 when LePage arrived.

A more recent departure came in May, when Dr. Stephen Sears resigned as state epidemiologist, a post that now remains vacant.

LePage, however, has the spread of infectious diseases in Maine all figured out — he blames the spike in Hepatitis C, tuberculosis, and HIV on “the illegals in our country.” He says he’s tried to get President Obama’s attention, but it’s fallen on “deaf ears.”

Maine State Rep. Richard Farnsworth (D-Portland), who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, has told reporters that Maine CDC has ceased using science to make decisions. For its part, the beleaguered agency used the old canard about too much time passing to make naming the restaurant a public health benefit and fear that the identity of the food worker might become known.

So it’s been narrowed down to any one of about 1,000 restaurants in Cumberland County. Between that and Maine CDC’s statewide warning about possible Hepatitis A symptoms, it really did not matter which road was taken.

Not to them.

© Food Safety News
  • Oginikwe

    Self-interest disguised as ignorance rules America these days.

    LePage dismisses BPA dangers; ‘worst case is some women may have little beards’ (Bangor Daily News) 2/22/2011: http://bangordailynews.com/2011/02/22/politics/gov-lepage-dismisses-dangers-of-bpa/

    Maine “Little Beards” Gov LePage Hired Pro-BPA Lobbyists (Mother Jones) 2/25/2011: http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/02/maine-little-beard-gov-hired-pro-bpa-lobbyists

    The 10 Scariest GOP Governors: http://www.alternet.org/story/151535/the_10_scariest_gop_governors%3A_bringing_a_radical_right-wing_agenda_to_a_state_near_you

  • Bowdoin81

    So, if the governor went off about immigrants, was the restaurant worker an immigrant? Would IDing the restaurant also ID the person with Hep A? I’d like to see that, but maybe the state is more compassionate than I am.

    And if it’s true that the state CDC didn’t know the restaurant until the 14 day vaccination period was over, then what practical good would it do anyone for the name of the restaurant to be divulged, that a general warning to a small population about Hep A would not do anyway?
    I am cynical enough to always be ready to criticize government officials, but I’m not ready to get out the tar and feathers just yet.

    • Kobukvolbane

      If it was too late to get any treatment, wouldn’t it be good to know that, if you fell ill, you might have Hepatitis A? Those close to you would want to know that. And people can and do die with Hepatitis A. I took care of a patient who did.

    • JasonWeb

      If I had eaten at that restaurant, I’d like to be alerted to symptoms I should watch for and treatment options wouldn’t you?

  • Jessie Timberlake

    “blockheads” lol

  • mark

    Hello Dan,
    How many times has FDA, CDC and USDA declined to inform consumers of where a contaminated food product has come from? While not agreeing with the governor, he’s taking his stance right from the ineptitude of the federal government.