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Health officials say no swine flu has been found so far in Minn., no time to panic

WILLMAR -- Testing at Minnesota's public health laboratory has not uncovered any cases of North American, or swine, influenza in the state so far.

The Minnesota Department of Health said Tuesday that as of 1:45 p.m., the laboratory had tested 30 specimens, all of which were negative. Another 50 to 60 specimens are awaiting tests.

In a statewide media briefing Monday, state health officials said there's still much that's unknown about this new form of flu.

"At this point everybody wants the answers," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health.

As more information emerges, it will be shared with the public, she said. "We are ready to respond. We have plans in place that we are using."

The swine flu is a novel strain, a combination of human, avian and pig influenza that hasn't previously been reported. Current flu vaccine formulas likely would offer little protection.

At both the state and local level, officials are urging awareness on the part of the public.

"Now is not the time to be panicking," said Ann Stehn, director of Kandiyohi County Public Health.

The emphasis locally is on making sure accurate information is available to the community and to health care providers, she said.

If the outbreak continues to spread, or if cases are confirmed in Minnesota, Kandiyohi County's emergency readiness team is prepared to ramp up its response, she said. "We're reviewing our plans."

Concerns about misleading the public have prompted state health officials to begin calling this influenza strain "North American flu" rather than "swine flu." Some experts also are referring to it as "hybrid flu."

No confirmed cases of the virus have been found among pigs, nor is it being spread by pigs, Gene Hugoson, Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture, said Monday.

"There's absolutely no health risk whatsoever from eating a pork product," he said.