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Too much swine flu to count: officials

WORLD health officials have given up trying to count how many people have the H1N1 swine flu virus, saying the best they can do is estimate its "unstoppable" spread.

But on Friday, Dr Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined even to hazard a guess, saying it was "more than a million."

Officials do not have the tools they need to count the number of cases, authorities believe.

"Most people who have respiratory illnesses don't find out exactly what caused it. Even most people with influenza don't know exactly which type of influenza caused their illness," Schuchat said.

Diagnostic tests for influenza are not very good. In fact, swine flu is often suspected when a patient's instant in-office flu test comes up unreadable.

"I think that we all know the diagnostics we have, have limitations," Robin Robinson of the US Department of Health and Human Services told flu vaccine experts meeting this week.


"I think we would all agree that there is a need to have improved point-of-care diagnostic testing," said pediatrician Dr John Modlin, who chairs the vaccine committee that advises the Food and Drug Administration.

Aware of the need, the FDA on Friday authorized emergency use of a Quest Diagnostics Inc test for the swine flu virus, only the third commercial test available.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization said it would stop issuing counts of confirmed cases of swine flu, saying it was more important to concentrate efforts elsewhere.

On Friday, the CDC said it also would drop its weekly swine flu count.

"We think that millions and millions of people are affected," Schuchat said -- but added that was just the tip of the iceberg because only the most serious cases usually make it to the hospital to be tested.

"We're no longer going to expect the states will continue this individual reporting and we're going to transition to other ways of describing the illness and the pattern," Schuchat said.

The WHO has reported 800 confirmed deaths globally from the H1N1 virus which has spread to 160 countries, but health experts say the figure does not reflect the true number killed.


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