Tarrant County Refuses to Break Down Zika Cases By ZIP Code

Tarrant County reported its 25th case of Zika virus on Thursday. All of those people were infected somewhere else and brought the illness back to North Texas. This latest patient traveled to Puerto Rico, officials say.

But should you be allowed to know what ZIP code these patients call home? NBC 5 has been pressing for that information since this summer and the requests are now leading to a lawsuit against the state attorney general.

NBC 5 Investigates requested Zika cases broken down by ZIP code, the way West Nile cases are, to look for any clusters of cases in Tarrant and Dallas same counties that the public should know about.

Both county health departments initially refused to release the information, saying it would violate patient privacy.

Each department then took it to the state attorney general to make a decision, who ruled against them, saying the information NBC 5 requested was only statistical and would not identify anyone.

Within days, the Dallas County Health Department handed over its data broken down by ZIP codes.

But Tarrant County is still refusing and now, in a rare move, is suing the attorney general's office to keep from releasing the information.

Tarrant County Health says because Zika requires localized spraying around an infected person's home, pairing that with public ZIP code data could identify patients.

An expert in infectious diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center tells NBC 5 Zika virus is entirely different from West Nile and that since all cases of Zika in our area have so far been travel related, there’s not as much urgency to track them by exact location.

"It is possible that a mosquito could bite a person who just came back from El Salvador or Mexico or somewhere and transmit to somebody, that's possible. It's just it's so unlikely that it's just not happening," said Dr. Robert Haley, Chief of Epidemiology at UT Southwestern.

Haley also says that finding clusters of cases in one ZIP code wouldn't be surprising, because they’ve all been contracted overseas.

"People who take luxurious vacations, they tend to live in the same areas, and people who go down to Mexico or El Salvador to visit family, they tend to live in similar areas and so you would expect clustering, neighborhood clustering,” Haley said.

This case is now back in the hands of the state attorney general to determine whether Tarrant County needs to release its Zika data by ZIP code. NBC 5 will continue to track this story.

See the chart below where the cases of Zika have been reported in Dallas County:

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