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2 likely flu cases at Southwest High

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER and MARY LYNN SMITH
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • May 6, 2009 - 11:35 PM

Two more probable cases of swine flu were reported in Minnesota on Wednesday, both at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, according to the state Department of Health.

State health officials would not say whether the two patients are students or adults, but noted that the school is remaining open.

"We want to ensure that we're getting the message out that people who are sick stay home. That's really important," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state epidemiologist.

As of Wednesday, Minnesota has only one confirmed case of the new strain of flu, and 11 probable cases, none serious enough to require hospitalization, Lynfield said. "Thus far everyone has been outpatient and expected to make full recovery at home," she said.

Meanwhile, the Mille Lacs Reservation in Onamia announced it had identified a "possible case" of swine flu and will close its schools to students today and Friday while staff disinfects the buildings.

The announcement came as news to the Minnesota Department of Health, which has been overseeing testing for the new flu strain. "We're not aware of any positive [test results] involving somebody from that region," spokesman Buddy Ferguson said.

Jennifer Hellman, a Mille Lacs spokeswoman, said the reservation had done its own testing and concluded that there was a probable case, but later changed it to a possible case. She offered no details about the testing.

She said the reservation had decided to cancel classes at its Nay Ah Shing schools and day-care program for the rest of the week as a precaution, although staff "should report to work as usual."

So far, the state Health Department has tested nearly 500 specimens from patients with flu-like symptoms.

"We have heard anecdotally from emergency rooms and from some clinics that they are seeing a lot of patients, they are getting a lot of calls," Lynfield said. "It's a little hard to know how much of this is people who have concerns, how many have [fever and] respiratory illnesses." She said the state will start focusing mainly on testing hospitalized patients with flu-like symptoms.

The only confirmed case was reported last week at Rocori Middle School in Cold Spring. So far, a handful of schools have closed temporarily after probable cases were reported, but all have since reopened after new recommendations from federal and state health officials.

As new flu cases pop up, the question of whether to banish the traditional handshake during commencement ceremonies or to take other precautions is being discussed on campuses across the country.

Officials at the University of Wisconsin campuses in Oshkosh and in River Falls are nixing the handshake between student and school officials as diplomas are awarded.

"It's just a precaution," said Kevin Harter, UW-River Falls spokesman. Although there are no reported cases of swine flu on campus, Harter said skipping the handshake probably will make some people more comfortable. University officials also have discussed providing hand sanitizers for the May 16 ceremony, he said.

St. Olaf decided there is no need to forgo the handshake -- at least not yet. "We'll put out hand-sanitizers," spokesman Steve Blodgett, said. "We may change our decision if the disease spreads and until we have better information that we need to notch things up."

University of St. Thomas officials may add hand-sanitizers to commencement ceremonies but the decision to exchange handshakes may be best left up to Archbishop Harry Flynn who will be pressing the flesh of 1,000 graduates, said Liz Pojar, commencement coordinator. "He'll be the one most impacted by all the handshaking," she said.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384 Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788

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