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Kandiyohi County health officials continue to urge flu prevention

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County health officials are continuing to urge preventive measures -- hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when ill -- to reduce the risk of H1N1 novel influenza.

Their message took on extra urgency Wednesday with the announcement of a possible H1N1 flu case in Cold Spring in neighboring Stearns County.

The news was not unexpected, said Ann Stehn, director of Kandiyohi County Public Health.

"We've been waiting and it really wasn't a huge surprise," she said at a media briefing Wednesday with local health officials.

There's a chance the novel influenza virus, also known as swine flu, will eventually show up in Kandiyohi County as well, she said.

"It wouldn't surprise me if we had a case here," she said. "We're preparing as if we would deal with something here but we don't know. It's a very fluid situation."

Local planning continues to focus on preparedness and communication.

At Kandiyohi County Public Health, for instance, readiness has been stepped up a few notches and roles assigned to the staff so they can respond quickly if H1N1 influenza is found here, Stehn said.

Rice Memorial Hospital has been holding daily briefings to address issues such as how patients should be screened for potential influenza in the emergency room and in inpatient and outpatient departments -- and what to do if someone turns up positive, said Barb Piasecki, infection control nurse for the hospital.

Medical clinics have stocked up on supplies such as masks and alcohol. They're also working to ensure physicians and staff have access to the information they need.

Affiliated Community Medical Centers has been emphasizing communication among the physicians at its 10 regional medical clinics, said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center.

"Our providers really are very calm... Everybody's just trying to be watchful and practical," she said.

At Family Practice Medical Center, "The biggest thing we're seeing at this point is educating staff," said Stacey Zondervan, patient services director.

There've also been several phone calls from the public, she said. "We're getting great questions from patients. We're answering them the best we can."

Symptoms the public should watch for: fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, headache and body aches. The symptoms usually have a sudden onset.

These don't necessarily mean someone has H1N1 influenza, Zondervan said. Although it's close to the end of the regular flu season, those viruses are still circulating as well, she said.

Anyone with flu-like symptoms should call their health care provider, however, for further screening and advice, local officials said.