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H1N1 outbreaks seen at schools, but not in this area yet

The H1N1 novel influenza virus is out there and it's probably inevitable that it will turn up in area schools this year.

It doesn't seem to have happened yet in west central Minnesota, but it is turning up in other areas.

Just a couple days after school started, Two Harbors Superintendent Phil Minkkinen has already sent a letter to parents in his district to tell them that several students have influenza-like illnesses that appear to be the H1N1 flu, often called swine flu.

The University of Minnesota has seen an increasing number of cases since classes started Tuesday. Ridgewater College in Willmar has not had a problem with the flu since classes started Aug. 24.

Several of the 40 Renville County young people who went to the Minnesota State Fair came home with flu symptoms, said Jill Bruns of Renville County Public Health.

Their families used precautions, and no one else caught it from the State Fair-goers, she said.

So far, it doesn't appear to have spread in the schools, "but it is inevitable," Bruns said.

Ann Stehn, director of Kandiyohi County Public Health, said she had not heard of any outbreaks in schools yet, but the virus has been in the area.

"I wouldn't say it's not circulating," she said. The virus was present in the area throughout the summer and peaked in June, she said.

Schools are using lots of preventive measures, said Patti Dols, principal of Roosevelt Elementary in Willmar.

The staff has talked to students about covering their coughs, and students wash their hands several times a day, she said. The staff is also doing things like cleaning door handles often.

So far, there have been no illnesses reported, she said. "Prevention is the most important thing we can do."

The H1N1 symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches or fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

In Two Harbors the superintendent warned parents to contact a doctor if the flu shows up in children with chronic health conditions or in students who are pregnant. He recommended parents keep sick children at home for at least 24 hours after symptoms subside.

Symptoms of H1N1 seem to be presenting as seasonal influenza in terms of how sick it makes people and how it is spread. Most people who have had the H1N1 flu in Minnesota have gotten better without complications.

However, as with seasonal flu, some people are hospitalized, and some people with it die. Since the virus was identified earlier this year, 265 Minnesotans have been hospitalized with H1N1 flu, and three died.

Information from the Lake County News Chronicle of Two Harbors, a Forum Communications newspaper, was included in this story.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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