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As cases rise, swine flu is linked to two more deaths in Minn.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota health officials confirmed two more deaths Wednesday from 2009 H1N1 flu, or swine flu as it is also known, as more schools report flu outbreaks and the number of people hospitalized continues to rise.

While the Health Department will not provide specific identifications, the family of Oliver Franklin Finley, 11, of Hastings reported he died of swine flu. 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 swine flu began circulating in April.

Health experts say the 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.

Swine flu, 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 swine flu. Since the first case was reported earlier in the year, 915 have been hospitalized.

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

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

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.