Surveillance for influenza deaths has been used to gauge the severity of influenza seasons. Traditional surveillance, which relies on medical records review and laboratory testing, might not be sustainable during a pandemic. We examined whether electronic death certificates might provide a surveillance alternative. We compared information retrieved from electronic death certificates that listed influenza (or a synonym) with information retrieved from medical charts on which influenza deaths were reported by traditional means in Los Angeles County, California, USA, during the 2009 influenza A(H1N1) pandemic and 2 subsequent influenza seasons. Electronic death certificate surveillance provided timely information, matched the demographics and epidemiologic curve of that obtained from traditional influenza-related death surveillance, and had a moderately positive predictive value. However, risk factors were underreported on death certificates. Because surveillance by electronic death certificates does not require obtaining and reviewing medical records, it requires fewer resources and is less burdensome on public health staff.
Keywords: Los Angeles; death certificates; deaths; influenza; mortality; pandemic; surveillance; viruses.