At least four people in Lucas County have died during the last three weeks from the powerful H1N1 strain of the flu virus. More people likely died last weekend.
Unfortunately, we don’t know because officials at Mercy Health Systems, ProMedica hospitals, and the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio, have refused to release any information about people who died in their hospitals from the flu virus. Neither is the Lucas County Health Department acting judiciously -- or possibly even legally -- in withholding information about those afflicted by the flu.
In a potential public-health crisis, such secrecy is unwarranted and even irresponsible. No one is asking for personal information, medical histories, or even the names of the dead. Federal law protects such information. But people ought to know how many of their neighbors have died from the flu strain. To protect themselves, they need to know how widespread and serious this outbreak has become.
There’s no need to panic, but there is cause for concern. Public officials need to create a sense of urgency, so that people don’t become complacent. Anyone who has not gotten a flu shot should get one. Some pharmacies have run out of the vaccine, but it remains widely available.
The Lucas County Health Department, 635 N. Erie St., Toledo, will run two walk-in flu clinics this week: today from 4 to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Other precautions include frequently washing hands, covering coughs, and drinking plenty of fluids.