CBS NEWS INVESTIGATES
Swine Flu Cases Overestimated?
CBS News Exclusive: Study Of State Results Finds H1N1 Not As Prevalent As Feared
In fact, you probably didn’t have flu at all. That’s according to state-by-state test results obtained in a three-month-long CBS News investigation.
The ramifications of this finding are important. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Britain’s National Health Service, once you have H1N1 flu, you’re immune from future outbreaks of the same virus. Those who think they’ve had H1N1 flu — but haven’t — might mistakenly presume they’re immune. As a result, they might skip taking a vaccine that could help them, and expose themselves to others with H1N1 flu under the mistaken belief they won’t catch it. Parents might not keep sick children home from school, mistakenly believing they’ve already had H1N1 flu.
Why the uncertainty about who has and who hasn’t had H1N1 flu?
In late July, the CDC abruptly advised states to stop testing for H1N1 flu, and stopped counting individual cases. The rationale given for the CDC guidance to forego testing and tracking individual cases was: why waste resources testing for H1N1 flu when the government has already confirmed there’s an epidemic?
Some public health officials privately disagreed with the decision to stop testing and counting, telling CBS News that continued tracking of this new and possibly changing virus was important because H1N1 has a different epidemiology, affects younger people more than seasonal flu and has been shown to have a higher case fatality rate than other flu virus strains.
CBS News learned that the decision to stop counting H1N1 flu cases was made so hastily that states weren’t given the opportunity to provide input. Instead, on July 24, the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists, CSTE, issued the following notice to state public health officials on behalf of the CDC:
“Attached are the Q&As that will be posted on the CDC website tomorrow explaining why CDC is no longer reporting case counts for novel H1N1. CDC would have liked to have run these by you for input but unfortunately there was not enough time before these needed to be posted (emphasis added).”
When CDC did not provide us with the material, we filed a Freedom of Information request with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). More than two months later, the request has not been fulfilled. We also asked CDC for state-by-state test results prior to halting of testing and tracking, but CDC was again, initially, unresponsive.
While we waited for CDC to provide the data, which it eventually did, we asked all 50 states for their statistics on state lab-confirmed H1N1 prior to the halt of individual testing and counting in July. The results reveal a pattern that surprised a number of health care professionals we consulted. The vast majority of cases were negative for H1N1 as well as seasonal flu, despite the fact that many states were specifically testing patients deemed to be most likely to have H1N1 flu, based on symptoms and risk factors, such as travel to Mexico.