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The World Has Stopped
Counting H1N1 Swine Flu Cases

Shortly after the WHO declared the swine flu a pandemic in early June, they stated on their website that they would re-categorize all cases of common influenza as H1N1 swine flu. Now governments around the world are publicly announcing that they too have stopped counting swine flu cases.

U.S. health officials have lost track of how many illnesses and deaths have been caused by the swine flu and admit they are not making any efforts to analyze which strain of flu is affecting the population.

Health officials had previously counted lab-confirmed cases, though the tally was skewed because many people who got sick never were tested.

Most nations have stopped relying on lab-confirmed cases, too, and many health officials say the current monitoring system is inadequate. But not having specific, accurate counts of swine flu means the government doesn't have a clear picture of how hard the infection is hitting some groups of people, said Andrew Pekosz, a flu expert at Johns Hopkins University.

In early September, The Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that public health officials in British Columbia were advising doctors to assume that all flu symptoms were the result of the H1N1 virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is relying on a patchwork system of gathering death and hospitalization numbers. Most states are reporting illnesses that could be the new swine flu, seasonal flu or some other respiratory disease.

What's more, as the initial panic of the new virus ebbed, fewer people were fully tested, so the results weren't as accurate or comprehensive. "The kinds of numbers you were getting later in the summer were different from the numbers early on," said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, deputy director of the CDC's influenza division.

More comprehensive tracking is not possible with current resources and medical record-keeping, some public health advocates say.

"The fact that it is a challenge to come up with these data proves that we have underdeveloped surveillance systems in this country," said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, a Washington-based public health research organization.

There are problems that make flu data incomplete or inaccurate. Rapid flu tests — which are used in counting hospitalizations — are often wrong when they indicate a patient doesn't have swine flu, CDC studies have shown. In some cases, flu or swine flu was only confirmed at autopsy. But most deaths are not autopsied.

These problems are not unique to the United States. The World Health Organization deciding that tracking individual swine flu cases was too overwhelming for countries where they said (without laboratory analysis) that the virus was spreading widely. The WHO has continued to update swine flu reports, but with the disclaimer that countries are no longer required to test and report cases.

Britain also releases weekly swine flu updates, but the numbers are estimates based on how many people go to their doctors with flu-like illness, as well as calls logged to the national flu service.

Singapore government officials stated the classification system recommended by the the WHO has made the number of reported transmissions so high, that the government has officially stopped counting the number of cases.

"There will always be an error factor, misdiagnosis, misclassifications," said Pestronk, formerly the head of a county health department in Michigan. "We'll never be at 100 percent of people getting tested. The question is what's good enough for purposes of planning and acting on the burden of disease."

Public health epidemiologist, Michael Hager stated that "there have been and continue to be major data imperfections when it come to counting swine flu cases across almost every developed nation in the world."

Hager said there will always be margins of error, but the misdiagnoses and misclassifications of H1N1 swine flu are overwhelming. "The statistical errors made by governments have grossly distorted swine flu cases by a margin that make it impossible to know how many actual cases of flu are caused by the H1N1 flu strain."


SUSTAINABLE FUTURES INTERVIEW:
The Truth About the H1N1 Vaccine
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Email with any reports or comments regarding the flu pandemic in your area.

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