Number of Americans getting tests for swine flu plummets, report shows

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 18, 2009; 3:49 PM

The number of Americans being tested for the swine flu has plummeted, providing more evidence that the second wave of H1N1 infections has peaked in the United States, a medical testing company reported Friday.

Quest Diagnostics Inc., the world's leading diagnostic testing company, reported that an analysis of nearly 170,000 samples from patients between May 11 and Dec. 9 showed the number of tests declined 75 percent since hitting a peak in the middle of October.

At the same time, the proportion of tests that are coming back positive for H1N1 has fallen, from 44 percent in November to only 21 percent for the two weeks ending Dec. 9.

The new H1N1 virus continues to be the dominant virus causing influenza, the company reported. It said H1N1 accounts for 98 percent of positive flu samples.

Positive tests are have fallen for all age groups, but children ages 5 to 14 continue to experience the highest percentage of H1N1 positive test results, Quest said. Nearly four in 10 children tested as recently as last week were positive for the virus, the company said. By comparison, nearly 80 percent of children in this age group tested positive in late October.

"Our data are a welcome indication that H1N1 may not be the health threat during the holidays that it has been throughout the fall," said Jay M. Lieberman, the company's medical director for infectious diseases.

"Nonetheless, this is no time for people to be complacent about protecting themselves and their families from H1N1 infection," he said. "The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus continues to be far and away the most significant source of influenza in every region of the U.S., according to our data. Many millions of people remain susceptible to the virus, which continues to cause serious disease in some individuals. In addition, the prospect of a third wave of virus activity next year means it is far too soon to declare victory over H1N1." The company's findings mirror reports from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has found a significant drop in flu cases around the country.

Federal health officials, however, are urging people to continue to get vaccinated against the disease. After an initial shortage of vaccine that prompted health officials to limit the vaccine to children, pregnant women and other people at high risk from the virus, most states are now making the vaccine available to anyone who wants it.

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