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Florida swine flu toll grows due to faster testing, not worsening epidemic.

TAMPA — Eighteen more cases of swine flu were confirmed in Florida on Friday, bringing the state's total to 23. Hillsborough has the most of any county, with six confirmed cases.

And health officials expect those numbers to grow, not because the situation in Florida is getting worse, but because state labs in Tampa and Jacksonville now can test for the virus instead of having to forward samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The 18 additional cases include six in Hillsborough County that had been considered probable swine flu. Those cases involved four males ages 12, 18, 21 and 22 and two females ages 19 and 24.

"We had anticipated these confirmations and had treated these individuals as if they had been confirmed with H1N1," the swine flu virus, said Steve Huard, Hillsborough County Health Department spokesman, in a news release.

The case involving the 12-year-old resulted in the closure of his middle school and two other schools for three days this week, until the CDC rescinded its earlier recommendation that schools be closed if a swine flu case was found.

None of the six Hillsborough patients required hospitalization, and all are recovering or have recovered, Huard said.

Pinellas still has one confirmed and one suspected case.

The other newly confirmed cases came from Alachua, Broward, Clay, Dade, Indian River, Okeechobee and Seminole counties.

Across the nation, there were 1,639 confirmed cases in 42 states and the District of Columbia on Friday, an increase of 743 from Thursday, according to the CDC. Again, the increase is being attributed to speedier testing. There are approximately 850 probable cases in the U.S.

As of Friday, Florida has 18 probable cases, including two in Sarasota County and one in Manatee County that were recently added to the list. The Sarasota cases involve two brothers, ages 10 and 2, according to the Sarasota County Health Department.

This week, the CDC began sending test kits to 10 states —including Florida — to speed the process. Hunter Zager, regional emergency response adviser for the Florida Department of Health, said the kits are now being used at state labs in Tampa and Jacksonville.

"Now that the state has the ability to test and confirm the H1N1 flu virus locally, county health departments throughout the state expect to see a rise in number of confirmed cases," he said.

Richard Martin can be reached at rmartin@sptimes.com.

>>Fast facts

Hedy herey

The state has set up a toll-free swine flu information line, which is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.. The number is (800) 342-3557

Information line

The state has set up a toll-free swine flu information line, which is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The number is (800) 342-3557.

Florida swine flu toll grows due to faster testing, not worsening epidemic. 05/08/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 9, 2009 12:00am]

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