Neon Tommy, the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism publication, has been rebuffed by several counties in California in its attempt to obtain records of swine flu deaths.
Only after some persistence did Los Angeles County allow the USC journalists to take a peek at its H1N1-related death certificates. The result? According to Neon Tommy 57 people have died in L.A. since the latest outbreak of swine flu in April, including 13 people since early October.
The USC journalists found that in many cases the county had not informed family members of the potential H1N1 cause of death. County officials told the publication that it wasn't their responsibility to notify relatives that the swine flu was near and that it had taken out a loved one.
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Neon Tommy's exam also found that, while health officials warn that H1N1 is especially dangerous for the very young and pregnant women, it killed a wide array of people in L.A. County so far this season:
"Of the 44 County victims, nine were under age 20, 13 between the ages of 20 and 40, and 22 over age 40," states the USC report. "There were two 1-year-olds and victims who were 3, 5, 7 and 8, only one of whom had preexisting conditions that would have made her vulnerable to a deadly flu strain."
Meanwhile, the publication reveals that 10 counties in the state refused to hand over swine-flu-related death records: Alameda; Contra Costa; Marin; Napa; San Bernardino; San Diego; San Francisco; Santa Clara; Shasta and Sonoma. The only other county besides Los Angeles that granted its request was Fresno.
"We're finding that it is incredibly difficult nationwide for a variety of reasons to get the actual names of the people who have died of H1N1," Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporter's Committee for the Freedom of the Press, told Neon Tommy.