UPDATE: Flu sends 120 4-Hers home from fair
By Don Davis
St. Paul Capitol Bureau
FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - Minnesota 4-H officials sent 120 youths to their homes across the state from the State Fair on Thursday after some came down with the H1N1 flu.
Four 4-H members and one staffer early Thursday were confirmed as having the new flu. In all, 14 4-H'ers went home sick, but not all were tested to confirm whether their illnesses were of the flu that is affecting youths around the world.
About 120 4-H members were sent home because they stayed in a fair dormitory with those who became ill.
None of the 4-H members were from Stevens County, and none of the ill 4-H members and one staffer are thought to be seriously ill.
Health and fair officials said the public is in no increased danger and should not avoid the fair.
Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan said the fair and 4-H leaders did the right thing in sending home the youths, 14 to 19 years old. She said that similar situations will play out as Minnesota schools begin fall classes. Health officials say the best thing people can do to prevent flu spreading is for sick people to stay home, or go home after they find out they have the illness.
4-H officials began noticing some members from different parts of the state fell ill Tuesday night. But it was early Thursday before any H1N1 cases were confirmed.
State 4-H program leader Dorothy Freeman said that the sick youths were sent home immediately. Others in contact with them were isolated, and were to head home later in the day.
John Stine of the Minnesota Health Department said fair officials did a good job with hygiene, but the flu still can spread regardless of what people do to prevent it.
More nurses will be added to the 4-H staff at the fair, which ends Monday. They will check each 4-H member for flu symptoms twice a day.
Officials said 4-H'ers sent home were from many parts of Minnesota, but they did not identify individual affected members.
Those leaving the fair early, after seven of their expected 12 days, were not happy, but said they understood the need to go home.
"Very sad" is how Liberty BayBridge of Ortonville described her feelings.
However, she added: "I totally respect the decision."
H1N1 flu tends to affect young people much more than those older than 50. Health experts think that is because those born before 1957 have come in contact with a similar flu strain and built up some immunity.
Minnesota has reported three H1N1 deaths, one elderly person and two youths.
The H1N1 pandemic flu is different than the seasonal variety that crops up every year and often affects older people worse.
Magnan and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said the high-profile flu outbreak is bound to be repeated in schools across the state as they open their doors. While most who get this pandemic flu do not become seriously ill, the strain does spread easily.
Further information on the novel H1N1 virus is available on the Minnesota Department of Health's website at www.health.mn.state.us. MDH can also be reached at (651) 201-5414.