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How many confirmed cases of H1N1 have there been in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties?

Vicky Eckenrode

There is no way to tell how many people in Southeastern North Carolina have had swine flu this year.

While it has caused some severe illnesses and even a few fatalities, many people with flu-like symptoms who might have had the H1N1 virus have recovered at home without seeing a doctor.

Even those who are getting sick and seeking medical treatment are more than likely not being checked to see if they actually have the flu strain, which has spread since first circulating nationally in the spring.

When the outbreak started initially, public health officials were attempting to keep counts and send samples from people with flu-like symptoms to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and later to the state public health lab in Raleigh for testing and confirmation.

Eventually, health officials stopped testing everyone with symptoms to see if they had the virus. One reason was because the number of samples became overwhelming for the testing sites. Another, according to public health officials, was that with so many people not visiting doctors, the counts significantly underrepresented how many people actually had the H1N1 virus.

In September, when federal testing guidelines were updated, the state began advising that samples bet tested at the state lab for only patients who had to be hospitalized and sent to intensive care.

The state also began reporting hospitalizations and deaths of all influenza patients not just H1N1 — though the H1N1 virus makes up nearly all of the flu strains circulating right now.

As of Nov. 24, 756 people in North Carolina have been hospitalized for flu illnesses, and 66 deaths have been reported.

Weekly updates can be found here. (http://www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/gcdc/flu0910.html)

The state is no longer breaking down those totals by county.

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