Iowa releases few details on H1N1 flu cases, deathshttp://www.desmoinesregister.com/articl ... /-1/NEWS04
Iowa health authorities are being relatively secretive about H1N1 cases, including two new deaths they announced Monday.
The Iowa Department of Public Health described the victims as "adult males" from eastern Iowa. But it wouldn't say which counties the men were from, and it released few details about how old they were, when they died or why they might have been susceptible to complications from the disease.
Several neighboring states are more forthcoming. For example, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin report which counties or towns flu victims are from, and all but Wisconsin give more specific age ranges than Iowa makes public.
Iowa officials say they are protecting patient privacy. But a public-information advocate said they are going too far.
Kathleen Richardson, executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said the public is nervous about H1N1, and health officials should be as open as possible to gain the public's confidence.
"The more information we can give people about who's being affected and the types of people who are being affected, the better off we'll all be."Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, state epidemiologist, said the health department is balancing the public's right to know with families' rights to grieve in private.
Quinlisk said deaths require extra privacy precautions, because published obituaries could provide clues to flu victims' identities. "If we said it was a young male from Greene County, how long do you think it would take you to figure that out? I bet it would take five minutes," she said.
Quinlisk said confidentiality decisions are being made about each case. For example, Iowa's first H1N1 death report, which came in August, did not include the victim's gender. But the report Monday about Iowa's second and third deaths said the victims were men.
The health department said the men "both had personal factors that may have put them at higher risk for H1N1-related complications," which Quinlisk said meant they had chronic health problems.
However, the department would not say when the men died, how old they were, or which counties they were from. It said the cases were unrelated, and it said the fact that both were from eastern Iowa did not imply the virus is more common or severe there than elsewhere.
Several neighboring states are reporting confirmed H1N1 illnesses by county, but Iowa is reporting them only by region. Quinlisk said that's because health care providers here tend to draw patients from numerous counties, so it's more helpful to report the cases by region. She said she would have no qualms answering questions about whether a county had confirmed cases.Richardson said her group, whose members include The Des Moines Register, negotiated with the health department about openness when West Nile virus was making news several years ago. At the time, she said, the health department agreed to release each victim's home county, age range and approximate date of death or treatment. Now, she said, the department appears to have backtracked from that agreement.
"It's just ridiculous that we have to fight this battle over and over again every time there is a new communicable disease people want to know about," she said.
Richardson said she thought about the issue recently when she heard a radio report with specifics about plague cases in China, which is hardly known for free speech. "China is giving out more information about that than the Iowa Department of Public Health is giving out about this," she said.
Quinlisk said she would release more information if she thought it would help people understand the disease and protect themselves from it. For example, she said, it is important for people to know that H1N1 flu is present throughout the state and that it is hitting school-age children and young adults unusually hard. But she said knowing a victim's exact age or hometown should not make a difference in how Iowans respond to the outbreak.
Quinlisk stressed that people should continue to take common-sense precautions, including washing their hands often and thoroughly, using a tissue or sleeve if they cough or sneeze and staying home if they feel ill.
H1N1 vaccinations are expected to start arriving in a few weeks. They will be offered first to people in high-risk groups, including children, young adults, pregnant women and adults with chronic health problems that make them susceptible to the disease.