Missouri Health Officials Refuse Subpoena Over Deadly Virus
Missouri health officials have refused to comply with a subpoena for information on a tick-borne virus that killed a state worker.
The subpoena is the latest of several attempts by state legislators to force the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to disclose information on the Bourbon virus, an illness discovered in Kansas in 2014.
The virus' symptoms include fever, fatigue, rash, headache, body aches, nausea and vomiting, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Missouri lawmakers want to know how many people statewide have tested positive for antibodies associated with the deadly virus. But the health agency refused to supply the data Monday, citing privacy concerns, The Kansas City Star reported .
"It was just kind of a last attempt to give them the cover they felt like they needed to give us the information that we were requesting before we had to make a decision one way or the other on if we were going to cut their budget for not responding," said Republican Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, chair of the House Budget Committee.
In response to the department's refusal to provide information, lawmakers on Wednesday passed a budget that cut eight positions from the agency.
House lawmakers started seeking more information when Tamela Wilson died of the virus last year after being exposed working at a state park. The department conducted blood testing on some state parks employees after Wilson's death, but the results remain confidential.
The health agency said that none of the ticks collected tested positive for the virus.
The department cites state law and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, as the reasons for withholding the information.
But lawmakers have pushed for transparency over a potential public health crisis.
The health agency's general counsel, Nikki Loethen, suggested settling the conflict through litigation.
Loethen said, "Because our two branches of government have been unable to resolve this matter, the department respectfully suggests that it may be appropriate for the third branch of government to determine whether the info can be lawfully disclosed."