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The CDC advised states to stop confirming cases of H1N1 back in July, presumably because it was a waste of resources when H1N1 had already been declared to be at epidemic levels. The assumption was that everyone who presented with flu-like illness was ill with H1N1.

CBS News asked the CDC to release data on the confirmed cases, and when the CDC did not respond to their request immediately they filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the data, and concurrently undertook a three-month, state-by-state inquiry concerning data of confirmed cases prior to the CDC’s recommendation to stop confirming H1N1 via laboratory test.

CBS found that the states were confirming swine flu in about 1%-17% of cases of persons sick with flu-like illness. The majority of the other flu-like illnesses were caused by non-influenza causes (83%-97%), although there were small amounts of cases confirmed to be seasonal influenza.

And of course during this time the presumption is that all these cases are swine flu, making it seem far more prevalent than it really is.  CBS cites the case of a recent “outbreak” of 250 students at Georgetown University, where the presumption is that there are 250 cases of H1N1, when in reality, those cases have not been confirmed and it is nothing more than a counting of students who went to the unversity’s health service with flu-like symptoms.  It’s very likely that few of those 250 students actually have swine flu.

This has problematic implications for vaccination recommendations as well (setting aside the question of whether the vaccine is safe and effective).  The CDC recommends that unless you have had a laboratory-confirmed H1N1 diagnosis you should get the swine flu vaccine, which means that some people who have actually been ill with swine flu will be getting an unnecessary jab, and people who think they have been ill with H1N1 will mistakenly assume that they are immune.

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