The tragic death last month of a man who contracted tularemia after clearing brush on the Island has done more to raise awareness of this dangerous illness than any number of public health warnings. Yet it took the family of Davio Danielson alerting this newspaper to the circumstances of his death for his cautionary tale to be told.

Mr. Danielson, active and vibrant at 79, died at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton where he belatedly sought treatment for what he initially thought was simply a summer cold. Symptoms of tularemia include fever, swollen glands, body aches, coughing and chest pain.

Had he sought treatment on the Vineyard — the one place in New England where multiple tularemia cases are diagnosed each year — the outcome might have been different. Island medical professionals are alert for this and other diseases transmitted by tick bite. Caught early, tularemia can be treated successfully with antibiotics. The last fatality on the Vineyard was in 2000, another case where the victim failed to seek medical help in time to be cured.

State health officials understandably declined to confirm or comment on the death of Mr. Danielson as an individual, citing patient confidentiality. What is harder to understand is their unwillingness to confirm that a new case of tularemia, let alone a fatal one, had occurred at all. Ironically, the fact that his death occurred outside of Dukes County was cited as a reason. A spokesman for the Department of Public Health said if officials were to provide data for counties where there are fewer than five cases per year, it could have the effect of confirming the identity of the patient, which they will not do.

Pressed further, department officials noted that tularemia is rare and generally occurs only on Martha’s Vineyard. “Citing a particular case of this rare event would not provide any new information about additional risk or public health exposure,” a department spokesman said in an email.

There may be bureaucratic logic to this position, but the result effectively undercuts a critical opportunity for broad public health education. Every year, tens of thousands of people come and go from the Vineyard where they face exposure to a range of tick-related illnesses. Thanks to education efforts by the town boards of health and Richard Johnson’s sadly underfunded tick eradication program, there is growing awareness on the Vineyard itself of the increasing variety of ticks and diseases they carry.

But the many visitors to the Island and off-Island medical professionals who ultimately see them may not be aware of the risks. And the recent tularemia case makes a larger point about the geographic nature of health risks that applies beyond the Vineyard and a specific disease. Concerned that others might learn something from their heartbreaking experience, the family of Davio Danielson took it upon themselves to come forward with his harrowing story, and they deserve thanks as well as sympathy.