Legislators hear about Minn. swine flu response

Health officials
State health officials Kris Ehresmann, left, and John Linc Stine update lawmakers on the H1N1 influenza virus during a hearing at the Capitol today.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

(AP) - Minnesota public health officials on Tuesday told legislators curious about the state's flu response that they have been planning for the "big one," but have yet to see signs it will reach such severity.

The House and Senate health committees heard from several officials, including local leaders in Stearns County, where Minnesota's only confirmed swine flu case was reported in Cold Spring.

Kris Ehresmann, an infectious disease specialist at the state Health Department, said there are nine probable cases of the H1N1 virus awaiting further testing.

So far, the state lab has received 462 specimen, with most processed and 19 still pending.

"Whether or not we are ever fully prepared is the test of time."

John Linc Stine, an assistant Minnesota health commissioner, told the panel that the agency is studying the early response to the flu outbreak to shore up vulnerabilities.

"Whether or not we are ever fully prepared is the test of time," Stine said.

State health officials are backing away from earlier recommendations to shut down schools where suspected cases have been reported. And they say virus samples will be tested only in patients who have been hospitalized.

Rocori Middle School in Cold Spring reopened Tuesday after being closed almost a week. Kindergarten through eighth grade reopened at Orono public schools Tuesday, although the high school remained closed. So did the Emerson Spanish Immersion School in Minneapolis, where suspected cases have been reported.

Fear over the flu spread has caused a surge of visits to emergency departments at children's hospitals, said Patricia Stinchfield, a registered nurse and infectious disease expert at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

"A child sneezes, a parent worries. They hop in the car and come to the ED," Stinchfield said.

She noted that 80 percent of patients that her hospitals are seeing are from Spanish-speaking families, a figure that may be tied to the virus' suspected origin in Mexico.

Ehresmann said the Health Department has been giving extra attention to Hispanic communities in its outreach, visiting Cinco de Mayo festivities and airing ads on Spanish language radio.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.