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2 more flu deaths confirmed

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota health officials confirmed two more deaths from H1N1 flu Wednesday as more schools report flu outbreaks and the number of people hospitalized continues to rise.

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While the Health Department will not provide specific identifications, the family of Oliver Franklin Finley, 11, of Hastings reported he died of H1N1. He had other health problems.

Also, Mike Milbrath, 54, a south-central Minnesota hospital administrator who had no other health conditions died in Mankato.

The two deaths, previously reported in the media, bring to 12 the number of Minnesotans who have died since the so-called swine flu began circulating in April.

Health experts say H1N1 flu easily is transmitted from person to person, although in most cases it is relatively mild. Young people and pregnant women, as well as people with other health problems, are most likely to be affected.

However, as Milbrath's death shows, anyone is susceptible.

Dr. Aaron DeVries, a Health Department epidemiologist, said the death of an otherwise-healthy man shows "you need to take it seriously because it can lead to quite bad outcomes."

In its weekly flu report, the Health Department reported 288 schools in most of the state reported flu-like outbreaks last week, up 38 from a week earlier. An outbreak is declared when a school reports at least 5 percent of its students are absent with flu-like symptoms.

Unlike what is common with the seasonal flu, no nursing homes reported an outbreak. The seasonal flu is not expected to surface until later in the year.

H1N1, a worldwide pandemic, is the major cause for concern now.

"There has been a very high number of individuals who were sick this past week," DeVries said.

Of 225 Minnesotans hospitalized with H1N1 last week, more than half were in the Twin Cities and central Minnesota areas. Most other cases were in southern Minnesota, although 13 were hospitalized in west-central Minnesota, with nine in the northeast.

Since Sept. 1, at least 655 Minnesotans have been hospitalized with H1N1. Since the first case was reported earlier in the year, 915 have been hospitalized.

The Health Department investigates each suspected flu death before confirming H1N1 as the cause.

Finley died Oct. 17 at Children's Hospital in St. Paul from complications of H1N1, his mother said.

"He passed away from pneumonia," Nancy Finley said. "Oliver was severely disabled and wasn't able to cough."

Fifteen Finley family members and their health-care providers battled the flu.

"Oliver just had a crappy deal," his mother said. "He had problems with his lungs. Toward the end, he had respiratory distress syndrome, but he fought a good fight."

Three of the boy's organs were donated to others.

Milbrath, who died Oct. 24, was executive vice president of Waseca Medical Center. He grew up in Lakefield, in southwestern Minnesota.

A flu hotline set up to help people who think they have the flu topped 10,000 calls Wednesday, a week after it launched.

"The waiting times tend to vary, sometimes down to as little as two to four hours, longer at other times, depending on current phone traffic," the Health Department's Buddy Ferguson said.

When Minnesota FluLine opened, with 50 telephone lines, waits of up to 13 hours were reported. Since then, it has expanded to 96 lines, Ferguson said.

The hotline was set up so people who think they have the flu can call it and get advice, such as staying home and drinking lots of fluids, and avoid going to a doctor's office. Nurses on the hotline may recommend that some callers see doctors and also may prescribe medicine.

Doctors' offices last week reported a dramatic drop in the percentage of patients with flu-like illnesses. Ferguson said it appears that since so many people are using the FluLine they are not going to doctors' offices, thus reducing the flu's spread.

Bonnie St. James of The Hastings Star-Gazette contributed to this story.

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