BURLINGTON, Vt. — Epidemiologists at the Vermont Department of Health are concealing the number of refugees with contagious active tuberculosis nearly a month after Watchdog reported that more than one-third of Vermont’s resettled refugees test positive for TB.
Earlier this month, Watchdog revealed that 35 percent of Vermont’s incoming refugees in the past four years tested positive for tuberculosis. How many of those cases are contagious and symptomatic, however, remains a secret, as state epidemiologists and top officials at the Health Department have spent weeks blocking efforts to obtain the data.
Refugees brought to the United States take TB tests as part of comprehensive health screening. For refugees resettled in Vermont, the Department of Health’s Refugee Health Program monitors test results and treats patients who have active TB disease. Unlike latent tuberculosis infection, active TB disease is contagious, symptomatic and even deadly.
RELATED: Refugees undergoing treatment for contagious TB disease in Vermont
According to documents obtained through a public records request, the evasions began May 27, when Watchdog contacted the Health Department to learn how many refugees tested positive for TB in recent years. The inquiry sparked private meetings among state epidemiologists, public health nurses and office staff, who proceeded to conceal the number of contagious active TB disease cases brought to Vermont through the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.
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Health department employees and lawyers included in the communication loop were Health Policy Coordinator Ben Truman, Refugee Health and Health Equity Coordinator Martha Friedman, public health specialist Sally Cook, Communications
TB CONTROL: Vermont state epidemiologist Patsy Kelso sent Watchdog’s request for information to tuberculosis control leaders who proceeded to withhold the number of active TB disease cases among resettled refugees.
State epidemiologist Patsy Kelso sent Watchdog’s May 27 request for data to Laura Ann Nicolai, deputy state epidemiologist and head of the tuberculosis control program. Nicolai met with department staff and legal counsel that day and the following week to concoct a plan to hide the number of refugees with active TB disease. “This doesn’t say that he wants to know how many cases were identified, so I wouldn’t offer it. If he asks it would be important to explain that latent infection is not...
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