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After first Minnesota flu case confirmed, officials quickly shut down school till Wednesday

Within hours of learning that Minnesota’s first suspected case of swine flu had been confirmed, officials closed Rocori Middle School and said it won’t reopen until Wednesday.

At a news conference in Cold Spring this morning, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota health commissioner Sanne Magnan both emphasized that they expect that there will be more cases in the state, probably fairly soon.

“This is a situation that is cause for concern, but not panic,” Pawlenty said, adding that in most cases in the United States, the so-called swine flu – now called H1N1 by most officials, including the governor — has been no stronger than typical, seasonal flu cases.

What makes all of this more unusual, however, is that health officials have no way of knowing yet whether the flu will move in terms of spreading or becoming more severe.

“What we don’t know,’’ said Magnan, “is if it’s going to die out on its own, spread more, or whether it will be like 1918, when a mild phase was followed by a more severe phase. It’s unpredictable. The virus changes.”

Magnan said 100 specimens, mostly from Stearns and Anoka counties, have been tested, and all were negative. Ten more specimens remain to be tested at this point, she said.

The testing procedure should become more streamlined in coming days, she said.

Currently, the Minnesota Department of Health screens specimens before sending highly suspect specimens to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The Minnesota department will  have the tools needed for full testing soon, she said.

For medical privacy reasons, officials at the news conference Thursday would not say whether the person at the Middle School was a student, teacher or other employee. At one point, Pawlenty corrected a reporter who asked about the sick “student.’’

“That’s person,’’ Pawlenty said. “You said ‘student.’ That infers the person is a student.”

As officials spoke, officials from the Department of Health were conducting an investigation as to how the infected person may have contracted the swine flu. The health department officials work in concentric circles, according to Magnan, starting with the infected person and working out to all people and contacts that person has made.

The decision to close the school was based on CDC guidelines, according to Rocori superintendent Scott Staska. At this point, only the middle school will be closed.

Staska asked for the cooperation of the local population in taking calls from health department officials.

Some people, he implied, already have become suspicious of callers.

“They (some residents) are afraid of the U.S. media,” he said. “They’re afraid of somebody trying to trick them into answering questions.”

Health department officials will clearly identify themselves, he said.

Staska also asked that all reporters leave school grounds at the conclusion of the news conference so that the schools remaining open “can operate as normally as possible.’’

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 05/01/2009 - 03:01 pm.

    The march of the epidemic makes brutally clear that globalization and the human race can not long continue to coexist. In Mexico, still the epicenter of the outbreak, the government ordered all non-essential functions, both government and private, canceled in Mexico City until May 5, a measure which several states also enacted. The government, with help from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is working to equip and man five more desperately needed laboratories, which they expect to be operational by next week, reestablishing a part of the capabilities stripped under free trade’s rampage.

    The biggest disease factor, however, is the poverty and hunger which globalization has entrenched in Mexico. According to official figures, 21 million Mexican live in extreme poverty; that is, unable to cover basic food necessities daily. With reports that some able to do so are beginning to hoard food, government officials today promised government social welfare agencies would guarantee basic foods such as milk; they claim to have sufficient stockpiles of corn for the next three or four months.

    CDC official Anne Schuchat emphasized to a House Health subcommittee hearing today that flu viruses are extremely unpredictable, in general, and this is a very unusual virus, containing genetic pieces from four different virus sources. We expect the number of cases and their severity will grow, and our understanding of the virus change, she said.

    Media reports that people flooding into hospital emergency rooms, fearing symptoms of the flu, are up 21% across the country—one week after the Association of Emergency Room Physicians again warned in a meeting in D.C., that the U.S. faces an emergency of the shutdown of emergency rooms. Nationwide, the U.S. has 50,000 less health care workers than in 1980!

    Mexico is providing on the street medical care and testing for people in Mexico City. We need government sanctioned, FDA approved, medical teams to appear in American shopping malls, and relevant places, to do the same. It is NOT sufficient to provide a telephone number for non insured to call; you must go out and engage them.

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