My reporting on blastomycosis cases in the Wausau area began with a reader tip. A resident of Weston, one of the communities I cover, e-mailed the paper’s news account and told us her neighbors all were worried about cases of the fungal infection in people and dogs.
The Daily Herald previously had reported that the county’s Health Department was studying the elusive fungus, in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and state health officials. Officials hoped that a spike in cases in Marathon County would give them new opportunities to learn more about the disease.
But when I asked the Health Department to be as specific as possible about the location of the cases — without violating privacy law — officials said they didn’t want to affect property values and didn’t feel releasing the information was in the public interest.
The newsroom disagreed, and I filed an open records request for the information. Last week, the Health Department released a map of the area, demonstrating that cases occurred in three large clusters in the Wausau area. A story about the new detail and residents’ reactions to it ran yesterday.
We understand that blastomycosis is a tricky disease. Scientists know very little about how the spores that cause the disease develop. The organism has not been isolated in a lab, preventing study of how and when it develops. But there is no question that people living in these areas have every right to know when and where endemic diseases appear.