Tag Archives: swine flu

Hoban reports on uneven H1N1 death disclosure

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

WUNC reporter and AHCJ member Rose Hoban put together a story about uneven disclosure of H1N1 deaths by public health officials and the possible benefits and risks of providing more information. In the end, Hoban reported, it comes down to balancing individual privacy and the public interest.

On the official side, Hoban spoke to Megan Davies, M.D., North Carolina’s epidemiologist, who referred to the lack of a “compelling public health need” to provide H1N1 death data on a county-by-county level, pointing out that in many areas it would be easy for locals to take that information, match it with recent death records and come up with the name of the infected person. Davies said that, in cases like that, she fears the infected person’s family would be stigmatized.

“The fear of contagion’s a really primitive thing that comes up in people,” Davies said.

Additionally, Hoban says, officials are bound by medical ethics, state laws and federal health privacy regulations (which, she notes, generally don’t cover people who are already dead).

For another perspective, Hoban spoke with AHCJ board member Felice Freyer of The Providence Journal. Freyer discussed AHCJ’s report that disclosure had been uneven across the country, and said that officials should share information unless there’s a compelling reason not to.

“Public health officials can’t do their job if they don’t have the trust of the public and no-ones going to trust them if they hide information for no reason,” Freyer said.

Former CDC lead legal counsel Gene Matthews agreed, noting that “Too little information can be a bigger headache than too much.” According to Matthews, this problem has been exacerbated by the Internet where, “If the public health officials don’t provide enough information, the outsiders will simply make it up.”

Rounding up some of the latest health coverage

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

With good topics for the blog flooding in and a short holiday week to get them all posted, I’m taking a shortcut to point you toward some interesting stories:

ProPublica: What Health Care Reform Means for the underinsured

Rapidly rising premiums have forced them to increase their deductible every year, and now they have a policy with a $5,000 deductible per illness per year.

Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times: A doctor is flummoxed by the costs when he becomes the patient

As a physician, he’s well aware that emergency room treatment is very expensive. But knowing the true cost of the limited supplies and labor required to treat such a minor wound, he found the experience more than a little disturbing.

Trevor Butterworth in Forbes.com: Why mall Santas do need the H1N1 vaccine, featuring AHCJ board member Maryn McKenna’s take on how well the media has covered H1N1.

McKenna gives the media a “gentleman’s C” for its coverage of swine flu, but believes it has been getting better in the past few months.

AHCJ member Elaine Schattner, M.D., in the Huffington Post: Mammography: A Not-So-Fatalistic View

I’m a medical oncologist and breast cancer survivor who holds a highly informed and intensely personal perspective on the subject. In my view, the press is getting and giving the wrong message on mammography. There are significant flaws in recent analyses that have escaped most headlines.

Tech company aggregates, digitizes H1N1 info

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Ebrary, a Silicon Valley outfit that specializes in digitizing and aggregating documents, then making them searchable, has put together a robust collection of H1N1-related documents.

Photo by nacaseven via Flickr.

Ebrary says it put the free database together because of employees’ personal frustrations over the unavailability of solid H1N1 information online. The database eases that frustration by making resources as varied as public health posters, FAQs and academic studies easy to browse and search.

While the documents are available elsewhere on the Web, journalists might find it helpful to browse this well-organized collection.

Ebrary’s H1N1 sources include Occupational Safety and Health Administration, CDC, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, HHS, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Department of Homeland Security, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the World Health Organization and more.

Public broadcasters have H1N1 site for journalists

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Public Radio Exchange’s FluPortal.org, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and done in collaboration with NPR, aims to provide public media with resources for reporting on H1N1.fluportal

Led by a regularly updated and authoritative blog, the site also impresses with a selection of Web tools, including widgets and embeddable multimedia, for media outlets to use on their own sites, up-to-date reference materials and examples of what others have done. The portal’s handling of new media and both official and unofficial online sources alone makes it worth a visit, especially given its current update frequency and timeliness.

Tracking H1N1 shots, in Texas and beyond

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Jeffrey Weiss of The Dallas Morning News reports that he was able, via an open records request, to get a full list of organizations in Texas that have requested H1N1 vaccines, as well as list of all shipments ordered. The list doesn’t include any public health departments, and is led by large hospitals and mass vaccinators.

On a national scale, the HHS-maintained flu.gov has an updated list of the number of doses of H1N1 vaccine that have been shipped to states, territories and regions thus far. And for your readers or viewers who are trying to get the shots, Google has a flu shot finder map for both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines.

6-foot rule separates San Diego paramedics, H1N1

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Voice of San Diego’s Randy Dotinga explains exactly how the fear of H1N1 has transformed every step of the health care delivery process in the Southern California city, which has been hit particularly hard by the virus. Dotinga focuses on how paramedics’ routines have changed. “To protect themselves,” Dotinga writes, “paramedics are essentially using the same precautions they would against infectious tuberculosis – something they hardly ever see.”

Dotinga says the changes become evident as soon as the paramedics arrive on the scene. Before H1N1, they’d walk right up to the patient. Not anymore.

Photo by Fetchy via Flickr.

Now, paramedics across the county adhere to a “Six-Foot Rule” when they suspect a patient has a respiratory illness. “If you’re six feet away even without your protective equipment for a short period of time, you’re not likely to get infected,” said Haynes, the county official.

If a patient has possible flu symptoms, the paramedics put on N95 respirators. They began wearing the respirators instead of ordinary masks about a month ago. Paramedics will put on eye shields too. Many paramedics hate to wear them, and forget to put them on.

In this environment of extreme care, not even the ambulances are left to go on as usual. These days, in addition to their regular regimen of extreme sanitation, they visit a nearby fire station a few times a month. There, they are nailed with a super-powered germicidal fog that ensures no microbes, nefarious or otherwise, are going to linger for long.

Does the six-foot rule really work? What about masks?

Maybe. Your view of the effectiveness of social distancing likely depends on where you stand on a particularly contentious issue: airborne vs. droplets. If influenza is spread primarily through droplets (as the CDC says it does here, and here), then it’ll have a tough time spreading beyond three feet unless it’s smeared on a surface. In this case, then, the six-foot rule is an effective way to slow the spread of the virus, as are masks.

If, however, you believe the virus is airborne then it would be able to cross the six-foot gap and you would need, at the very least, an N95 respirator (a mask which filters out at least 95 percent of airborne particles) to protect yourself. In this case, though, it’s important to note that according to some recent research, an N95 won’t offer any more protection than a regular mask.

According to the Institute of Medicine, we haven’t yet heard the final word on influenza transmission and further research is required (PDF). In the meantime, most providers are erring on the side of caution. Check out AHCJ’s primer on controlling pandemic flu for further information.

(Hat tip to AHCJ board member Maryn McKenna for pointing us in the right direction.)