elmexicano.jpgLast week the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) did what public health departments should do – announce to the public that an outbreak – especially an E. coli O157:H7 – is happening. However, the DHEC for whatever reason chose to announce the outbreak and then only name the type of restaurant, and hope the public was too stupid or bored to notice that there were close to a dozen Mexican restaurants in the Spartanburg area.

According to a press release today from the DHEC released (apparently worked on by the restaurant under investigation) the DHEC announced that it “finds no ongoing transmission of disease or current public health threat related to a Spartanburg-area Mexican restaurant.”

The DHEC further announced:

“While it is our policy not to release information during a pending investigation unless it affects the health of the citizens of South Carolina, the El Mexicano on East Main Street in Spartanburg has voluntarily agreed to release its name to the public.” DHEC Director Catherine Templeton said. “We’ve found no conclusive link between the restaurant and those who have gotten sick during this outbreak.”

Translation: Thank you El Mexicano for jumping in front of the bus. And, although the restaurant is the common denominator to the nearly dozen illnesses – including two children who have developed life threatening hemolytic uremic syndrome – no environmental or food samples tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. However, “[t]he most recent case began experiencing symptoms on May 3 and the restaurant was investigated “on May 11 where the facility scored an “A” rating.” Hmmm, I wonder if the same food was in the restaurant in April that was in the restaurant on May 11, or I wonder if the victims ate the evidence?

My strong suspicion is that DHEC Director Catherine Templeton knows nothing about public health and the good work of epidemiology. My bet is that she also cares a whit about the public’s right to know.