What do we need to know about flu deaths – redux

A few years ago, during the H1N1 flu pandemic, I noticed something – when someone died in North Carolina, health officials told the public next to nothing about the person or the circumstances around their deaths. Long conversations ensued with health officials about this… finally, I produced this story.

While reporting the story, I queried the listserv for the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), of which I’m a member. Universities also play their roles, and I learned that standards for death reporting by public officials varies widely. In places like Kansas, health officials practically give out addresses, while in NC, health officials say “someone” died in the state.

I questioned the need for such draconian standards of privacy protection. The rationale from state health officials was 1) compliance with HIPAA and 2) the desire to protect the feelings of families that may have recently lost a loved one. The implication was that journalists would be insensitive enough to ‘camp out’ in front of the homes of families where someone had died of flu and make things more difficult for grieving families.

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