Flu threat eases but surveillance to continue
WILLMAR -- Local health officials said Tuesday that they'll continue to watch for the H1N1 novel influenza virus.
But they will be testing for it less often, following new recommendations issued Monday afternoon by the Minnesota Department of Health.
"They've watched this virus for a little while and it does appear to be acting like regular flu," said Ann Stehn, director of Kandiyohi County Public Health.
The focus now has shifted to testing lab specimens only for patients who are hospitalized with influenza-like illness.
The message to the public is the same: Wash your hands often, cover your coughs and sneezes, and stay home if you're ill, Stehn said.
"It's very commonsense kinds of things," she said.
The count of H1N1 cases in Minnesota remains low -- one confirmed and nine probable, as of Tuesday afternoon.
All the so-called swine flu cases have been mild.
Even with heightened surveillance last week, screening did not turn up any suspected cases locally, officials said.
At Affiliated Community Medical Centers, about one person per day was screened, based on the risk criteria, said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center.
"They were all negative, which was good," she said.
Family Practice Medical Center collected only a small number of specimens as well, said Stacey Zondervan, patient services director.
"We didn't have a lot of people that met the criteria," she said.
Health officials cautioned this doesn't mean H1N1 has stopped being a public health concern.
"It's really too early to conclude we no longer need to worry about this," Stehn said. "We're definitely going to continue to watch for it. ... As we learn more, the guidance continues to evolve and change. We'll be watching and we're ready to change if need be."
DeBruycker said ACMC is continuing its normal influenza surveillance for the Minnesota Department of Health. The regional multispecialty medical center is one of 29 sentinel sites around the state that monitor for flu each year, usually during the active influenza season from fall until spring.
This regular surveillance will continue "until they tell us not to," she said.
The past week has tested the ability of the local medical clinics to communicate and keep up with a flood of new and changing information, DeBruycker said.
"Our job is to try and make sure all of our staff has the most current information," she said. "I think people have done a great job of being mindful and cautious."
Having a Minnesota Department of Health hotline and Health Department and CDC Web sites was extremely helpful, both for staff and for the public, Zondervan said.
"This is about the realest real-time drill we've had," she said. "I think it showed that we were able to deal with the phone calls that came in and provide good information. ... It was very reassuring to us to have the support and to have that consistent communication coming down to us so we could communicate a consistent message countywide."