Official: Missouri 'lucky' only 11 died of swine flu

ST. LOUIS | Missouri has been “incredibly lucky” that only 11 of an estimated 10,000 U.S. deaths from swine flu are attributed to residents of the state, a health official said.

Missouri reported the first two swine flu deaths in the state, but has since stopped issuing news releases each time someone dies of the disease or noting the deaths in its weekly flu report, Missouri Department of health and Senior Services spokesman Kit Wagar told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a story published Thursday.

Some states, including Kansas, notify the news media about each swine flu death.

Flu season has been relatively mild in Missouri, and while the swine flu deaths are tragic, they are not that newsworthy, Wagar said.

“We don’t put out press releases every flu season after people die,” Wagar said. “I’m trying to get to a standard.”

The 11 deaths in Missouri do not constitute a public health concern that merits a news release, in part because they have been spread out in 10 different counties, Wagar said. Also, most state residents who died of swine flu had underlying health conditions, he said.

“Missouri’s been incredibly lucky,” Wagar said.

The Association of Health Care Journalists, based in Columbia, Mo., has advocated for states to release information about the deaths, saying doing so can alert people to how the pandemic is affecting their community, without revealing enough to identify the victims.

If asked, Missouri will release information about residents killed by swine flu, including their gender, county of residence and age range, the newspaper reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t track swine flu deaths specifically, but estimates 10,000 U.S. residents have died of the disease.