Another Swine Flu Story Buried

Something seems terribly wrong with flu surveillance in farmed animals, and equally wrong with how newspapers are reporting on the issue.

A couple weeks ago, I blogged that the USDA took six weeks to announce that pigs at the Minnesota State Fair were likely infected with swine flu — this despite the fact that test results can be obtained from people in just one to five days.

Yet, somehow, the major media let the USDA off the hook. I’m unaware of a single story taking the agency to task for this inexcusable delay.

Well, Tom Philpott has caught another example of major media refusing to stir the pot when reporting on lapses in flu surveillance. He found a Washington Post story from last weekend carrying the shocking news that flu testing in farmed animals has been decreasing:

The search for influenza in pigs has actually decreased in the six months since the H1N1 strain was discovered in California and Mexico in April. Diagnostic labs in Minnesota, Kansas and Iowa report a decline in samples submitted by veterinarians; the lab at Iowa State University recently eliminated three positions because of “decreases in overall case revenue.” Link.

Great reporting. But why did the Post take 1545 words out of a 1,681 word article before revealing this information? Philpott accuses the reporter, David Brown, of burying his lead. But I have doubts: did Brown bury his lead, or did the Post’s editors do it for him? (Thanks, Bea.) Link.