Background: Reports that death notices in the Times-Picayune, the New Orleans daily newspaper, increased dramatically in 2006 prompted local health officials to determine whether death notice surveillance could serve as a valid alternative means to confirm suspicions of excess mortality requiring immediate preventive actions and intervention.
Methods: Monthly totals of death notices from the Times-Picayune were used to obtain frequency and proportion of deaths from January to June 2006. To validate this methodology the authors compared 2002 to 2003 monthly death frequency and proportions between death notices and top 10 causes of death from state vital statistics.
Results: A significant (47%) increase in proportion of deaths was seen compared with the known baseline population. From January to June 2006, there were on average 1317 deaths notices per month for a mortality rate of 91.37 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with a 2002-2004 average of 924 deaths per month for a mortality rate of 62.17 deaths per 100,000 population. Differences between 2002 and 2003 death notices and top 10 causes of death were insignificant and had high correlation.
Discussion: Death notices from local daily newspaper sources may serve as an alternative source of mortality information. Problems with delayed reporting, timely analysis, and interoperability between state and local health departments may be solved by the implementation of electronic death registration.