Mixed Marks for Swine Flu Updates

Study finds wide variations in Web reports by states and municipalities

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TUESDAY, July 7, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- State and local health departments in the United States get mixed marks for their use of Web sites to inform the public about the swine flu outbreak, a new study shows.

After the U.S. government declared a public health emergency in April, 46 of 50 state health departments posted some information about the H1N1 outbreak within 24 hours of the federal announcement, according to Rand Corp. researchers.

However, only a third of the 153 local health departments included in the study posted information on their Web sites within 24 hours of the federal announcement.

The researchers also found wide differences in performance among local health departments in the five states with confirmed swine flu cases at the start of the outbreak -- California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas.

About 73 percent of counties in California quickly provided some information on their Web sites, compared with 18 percent of counties in Texas and eight percent of counties in Kansas.

The study also found that content posted by most state health departments was of high quality. Forty-three of 47 state health departments provided information about how people could protect themselves or their family, 36 of 47 offered information about when to seek treatment and 27 of 47 explained who should take antiviral drugs.

Among the other findings:

  • 30 states provided information for health-care providers, with 14 posting their own information and 16 linking to information posted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Just over half of state health departments posted a news release, and nine provided information in languages other than English.
  • Of the 34 percent of local health departments that posted information on their Web site within 24 hours of the federal announcement of a public health emergency, 54 percent did this by linking to the CDC or their state health department Web site.

"We found that the capability to conduct basic crisis and emergency risk communication is quite good at the state level, but there remains significant variation at the local level," the study's lead author, Jeanne Ringel, a senior economist at Rand, said in a news release. "We concluded there is room for improvement at all levels, particularly in the area of providing information in languages other than English."

The study appears online in the journal Health Affairs.

The Rand Corp. is a nonprofit research organization.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about swine flu.

SOURCE: Rand Corporation, news release, July 7, 2009

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