However, as "The Early Show" learned during its inside look at the government's battle with H1N1, the tracking system in place doesn't always give a full picture of the pandemic.
Special Report: H1N1 Virus
CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton went inside CDC headquarters last week. She found that, when an adult patient dies or is hospitalized from the H1N1 virus, states have the option of confirming H1N1 by conducting a lab test. If they receive confirmation that the patient had H1N1, it's up to each individual state to report the total number that week to the CDC. Often, however, states don't provide that information and the numbers released publicly only represent a portion of the country, Ashton said.
Dr. Jennifer Ashton's Twitter page
During Ashton's visit last Friday to the CDC only 29 states and 1 territory had reported flu deaths and hospitalizations. And according to an internal CDC document obtained exclusively by CBS News, the actual number of people who have died due to H1N1 since September could be almost double, an estimated 1,131 deaths.
The numbers being reported, according to Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, are from flu model estimates -- not the actual numbers.
"It's a little counter intuitive," Frieden said, "but the best way to estimate the total burden of illness is not to count the cases, but to estimate them based on the best available science."
However, Ashton pointed out, things are very different when reporting pediatric flu deaths. She said states are required to document each case with the CDC, and every week the updated numbers are an accurate reflection of the entire country.