The state last week released the locations of chickenpox outbreaks that occurred during the 2014-15 school year, satisfying the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Portland Press Herald, but months after the information could have done any good for people susceptible to the infectious, and potentially harmful, disease.

The release, however, should set the precedent going forward that residents of areas experiencing an outbreak deserve to know in a timely fashion so that at-risk community members can take the correct steps to protect their health.

That’s hardly an extreme opinion. In fact, on several occasions in the 2000s, the state identified publicly the location of an outbreak, defined as the infection of three or more people in one place.

It is also in line with the guidelines of national public health organizations that recommend transparency.

“Public health officials should strive to release as much information as possible, within the limits of the law. Withhold information only when there is a clearly justified reason to keep it confidential,” states the 2010 recommendations signed by the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Prior to the newspaper’s lawsuit, the state’s recent policy with regard to disclosure was to release “only the minimum amount of data necessary” during outbreaks of infectious disease.

In the cases during the 2014-15 school year — which saw a total of 84 chickenpox infections, nearly double the number of the previous year — the only notification came in the form of letters sent home to parents of students at the schools where children were infected.

But that does no good for people without school-age children, some of whom could be among those most vulnerable to an illness.

With chickenpox, and many other infectious diseases prone to outbreaks, that includes infants, the elderly and those who are unvaccinated or have compromised immune systems because of disease, such as cancer or AIDS.

If vulnerable people know an outbreak is nearby, they can be extra diligent. In the case of chickenpox, for example, there are medications that can make the infection less severe if taken in time.

The safety of those Mainers should come before the unfounded privacy concerns given by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention when it first refused to release the information on the outbreaks.

Identifying publicly the communities, or even the schools, in which these outbreaks occur in no way identifies the individuals infected, certainly no more than sending letters home to parents.

It does, however, allow at-risk residents of the community to take extra steps to keep themselves healthy.

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