PARKERSBURG Mysteries around Sen. Robert C. Byrd's hospitalization have the rumor mills working over, a state Republican Party officer said Friday.
Byrd, 91, has been in the hospital going on his fourth week. He has a staph infection, but is improving, according to Byrd spokesman Jesse Jacobs.
Information such as which facility Byrd is located has not been disclosed by his office and Jacobs said he is abiding by the wishes of the family.
When such an information vacuums exist, it's filled with rumors and it's usually wrong, according to Gary Abernathy, executive director of the West Virginia Republican Party. Sean Hannity, a conservative television and radio personality last week, said the rumors were there is a clot in Byrd's brain stem and a new medical team has been called.
"My point is when they are not being forthcoming, there's going to be speculation," he said.
It sounds like Byrd contracted MERSA during his hospital stay, Doug McKinney, chairman of the state Republican Party, said. MERSA, short for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, is more difficult to treat than other staph infection and some strains can be life threatening.
"You would think they would be more forthcoming," he said.
Byrd's absence from the Senate probably impacts the Democrats more than the Republicans, McKinney said. For example, without Byrd, the Democrats lack the 60-vote majority to prevent filibusters, which could occur when the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court goes to the Senate, he said.
"They can always count on him to vote with the Senate leadership," McKinney said.
The most vocal Byrd has been in the past year was when Senate Democratic leaders discussed removing him as chairman of the appropriations committee, McKinney said.
Reports were Byrd was being eased out of his post because of his health. He stepped down in November.
Byrd is the longest serving senator in the history of the upper chamber.
While his health is a concern, most of the speculation is who will succeed Byrd in the Senate if he passes away in mid-term, McKinney said. Republicans thinking about running in 2012 are waiting to see what Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., decides, McKinney said.
The Republican Party encouraged Capito in 2006 to run against Byrd, who easily defeated industrialist John Raese.
"She is the leading light of our party," he said.
Byrd went to the hospital in mid-May, then was kept there after he developed a staph infection.
Associated Press Friday ran a story about how Republican legislators were concerned of his health and the lack of information.The public should at least know the severity of his complications, Delegate Jonathan Miller, R-Berkeley, said.
"The public doesn't have to know all the details of his health issues, but we should at least know how serious his complications are," he said. "If this matter is more serious than just a minor infection, the public should know. We elected him to serve us, and we should know if his health is making it hard for him to execute his duties."