HuffPost reporter, drawn by data, paints larger picture of hepatitis outbreak

Susan Heavey

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at

Graphic courtesy of HuffPostLauren Weber and her colleagues recently tracked the increase in hepatitis A cases across the country, noting surges beyond California. What started off as a simple map soon drove a larger story about a growing national crisis.

It was supposed to be a simple map. But what started as a small graphics project at HuffPost soon transformed into a revealing piece on the nation’s hepatitis outbreaks.

Writer and editor Lauren Weber, who also runs HuffPost’s The Morning Email, and her colleague had been following the outbreak in San Diego. They built up their sources and kept pressing for more information, soon connecting the dots to other outbreaks outside of the one in California that had made national headlines.

She soon started looking beyond the Golden State.

“I was initially drawn by the jarring news reports that San Diego was washing its streets with bleach that my editor had sent me, then horrified to realize news outlets were focusing more on that fact than the people who were dying of this outbreak,” Weber, who joined AHCJ in late 2016,  said in an email.

Lauren Weber

“This story really took off when I did a deep dive to figure out that this wasn’t just a San Diego problem – it was a problem across the country.”

Her first thought was to create a map that could show the outbreak’s spread in a more visual way. But after examining the federal government’s data, a bigger story grew.

“My idea quickly morphed into a full-blown feature once the numbers showed how dire this health crisis had gotten,” she wrote in an essay for AHCJ members.

In the end, Weber had a much larger story to tell – and illustrate.

“It’s a lot easier for people to wrap their heads around the urgency in public health reporting when you are able to back up your reporting with stark facts like hepatitis A cases have gone up 28 percent nationally. That kind of uptick makes people sit up in their seats and pay attention, and hard data like this drives my public health reporting because it helps draw attention to the dire nature of so many of these outbreaks and issues,” she said in her email.

Read how she did it here.

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