Federal health officials on Friday reported that swine flu is more widespread now than it's ever been.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is as much illness now as the winter peak of regular flu seasons. CDC officials also said Friday that swine flu has resulted in more than 1,000 deaths so far.
Locally our attempts to learn the number of cases reported in Columbiana County have been frustrated by the fact that individual cases of swine flu are not required to be reported to the county health department.
We've been inundated with calls from concerned parents claiming both that their children are suffering from the swine flu or that numerous children have been afflicted at their child's school.
There again, we have been unable to confirm these rumors. That type of information is not being supplied to us, even though we continue to ask.
Perhaps officials are trying to prevent people from panicking, but we believe that allowing the news media to report accurate figures would calm a lot of fears.
Local school officials are refusing to supply us information as well. One local school official even chose to hide behind HIPAA.
Back in July we chastised local safety forces for misusing HIPAA - the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act - but apparently some people weren't paying attention.
HIPAA, as it is commonly called, was passed by Congress in 1996 with the goal of protecting personal information about consumer health records. The key word here is personal. The act was meant to protect private, personal information about health records.
That Columbiana County educator must have missed our previous lecture because she used the HIPAA card excuse when asked to confirm whether a fifth grader in her district had in fact been infected with H1N1.
Instead of answering the reporter's question regarding a potential public health threat, or admitting it if she didn't have an answer, the educator copped out by citing HIPAA concerns. Had she ever bothered to read the law she would know how uninformed her answer made her sound. How does this educator think the Center for Disease Control gets around HIPAA when it releases the number of confirmed cases of H1N1 nationwide?
If the reporter had asked a hospital or other health organization whether a specifically named student had been confirmed as a flu victim or asked the name of a student who had been afflicted with the flu, that organization would have rightfully denied releasing the information, based on HIPAA. To deny public information regarding a health threat is not only irresponsible, it has potentially deadly consequences.
In today's Morning Journal we begin publishing a four-part series on local efforts to combat the flu. We hope this provides valuable information to help keep you and your family healthy throughout this flu season.