State confirms first H1N1 case

Labour dispute

Stephen Maturen

Labour dispute

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Minnesota’s first confirmed case of the H1N1 influenza virus , a novel strain of influenza commonly referred to as “swine flu,” Thursday morning. Gov. Tim Pawlenty reassured Minnesotans that the state is well prepared to deal with the virus at a Thursday press conference in Cold Spring, Minn . âÄúThis is cause for concern, not a cause for panic,âÄù Pawlenty said. âÄúMinnesota is well prepared for this event.âÄù The confirmation comes as the World Health Organization raised its influenza pandemic alert from phase four to phase five Wednesday, which indicates âÄúthat a pandemic is imminent.âÄù In a live webcast Thursday afternoon, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Richard Besser said the change in phases doesnâÄôt necessarily affect the United States, but will have a bigger impact on countries that havenâÄôt activated any pandemic influenza responses yet. âÄúIt means a pandemic is imminent, it means the disease is spreading,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs time for them to pull out their plans and think about what they would do if they had cases appearing within their own borders.âÄù The Minnesota sample came from an unidentified person with ties to the Rocori Middle School in Cold Spring and was flown to the CDC in Atlanta Tuesday night for additional testing to identify the unknown strain of influenza. The Minnesota Department of Health doesnâÄôt currently have the capability to confirm the presence of the virus. Ten cases in the area are being investigated by the MDH, State Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan said, and more are expected to emerge. Because influenza is highly unpredictable, health officials say itâÄôs impossible to understand the full nature of the virus. ItâÄôs unknown if the virus is going to die out on its own or escalate into a pandemic and spread more, Magnan said. âÄúWe donâÄôt know if, like in 1918, there will be a mild phase and then three or four months later we have a more severe strain,âÄù she said. Treatments for the virus are being stockpiled, and the state is working with health providers to assist people without health coverage, Pawlenty said. Because the virus has an incubation period of about a week, Rocori Middle School and the connected St. Boniface elementary will follow CDC procedure and remain closed until next Wednesday, seven days after the person affiliated with the school first showed symptoms. The H1N1 virus should not be considered deadly, Pawlenty said. âÄúThis is not a situation that if you were to contract [the virus] it would be lethal,âÄù Pawlenty said. âÄúIt is similar to other seasonal flu symptoms.âÄù Residents close to the middle school are not in a state of panic, Cold Spring Mayor Doug Schmitz said. âÄúWeâÄôre a small knit town,âÄù Schmitz said. âÄúI think people donâÄôt really get too overly concerned about things until itâÄôs a more severe case.âÄù However, Warren Arnold, owner of a small cafe in town, said he has noticed a change in town as his business has declined since the pandemic scare began. “You can even see it in the traffic outside,” Arnold said. “Even last night there wasnâÄôt anybody going anywhere.” Officials continued to urge people with flu-like symptoms to stay home. âÄúWe realize that that will not be a perfect option for many people,âÄù Pawlenty said. âÄúBut we must encourage the perspective that if you are sick, please stay home.âÄù Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius echoed PawlentyâÄôs sentiment in the webcast. School closings, like in Cold Spring, have sprung up around the country, at the discretion of local officials, she said, but âÄúthat doesnâÄôt mean send your kids to the mall.âÄù Sebelius advised parents to begin planning now what they could do to keep their children out of crowded places if their schools close because of H1N1 exposure. She reminded the public that 36,000 deaths occur from seasonal influenza each year, and all three urged individuals to take responsibility and awareness of their own health and contingency plans . âÄî Emma L. Carew is a senior staff reporter