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Minnesota responds to swine flu threat

ST. PAUL -- State and local public health officials are taking aggressive steps in response to the unusual strain of swine influenza that has been making people ill in Mexico and parts of the U.S.

Since Thursday, officials at the Minnesota Department of Health have been asking hospitals and physicians to submit specimens for testing if they have any patients with the kind of respiratory symptoms that typically characterize influenza.

Health care providers are also being advised to contact the state Health Department if they have patients with flu-like symptoms who have been to Mexico or to parts of the U.S. with confirmed cases of the unusual swine flu strain -- or patients who have had contact with sick people who had been to one of the areas with confirmed cases of the illness.

So far, no confirmed or probable cases of the illness have been detected in Minnesota as a result of the testing effort.

Twelve specimens have been tested thus far and all were negative for swine flu. However, health officials emphasize that they are concerned about this new strain of swine flu.

"Like other state and local health departments across the country, we are taking the emergence of this unusual flu strain very seriously, and we are working very closely with national and local partners to characterize this outbreak," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, minnesota state epidemiologist. "Thus far, all of the cases reported in the U.S. have been mild. We will continue to monitor the situation closely."

"(The Minnesota Department of Health) and local health departments in the state have been preparing for major public health threats for years," Dr. Lynfield added. "We are ready to respond."