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Flu sends 120 4-H'ers home from fair

Penny BayBridge of Ortonville talks to passersby Thursday as she prepares to leave the Minnesota State Fair, one of about 120 4-H members who were asked to leave after four colleagues and a staff member were confirmed to have H1N1 flu. Behind her are some things she and other Big Stone County 4-H'ers took to the fair. Don Davis/Minn. State Capitol Bureau

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - Minnesota 4-H officials sent 120 youths to their homes across the state from the State Fair today after some came down with the H1N1 swine flu.

Four 4-H members and one staffer early today were confirmed as having the new flu. In all, 14 4-H'ers went home sick, but not all were tested to confirm whether their illnesses were of the flu that is affecting youths around the world.

About 120 4-H members were sent home because they stayed in a fair dormitory with those who became ill.

None of the ill 4-H members and one staffer are thought to be seriously ill.

Health and fair officials said the public is in no increased danger and should not avoid the fair.

Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan said the fair and 4-H leaders did the right thing in sending home the youths, 14 to 19 years old. She said that similar situations will play out as Minnesota schools begin fall classes. Health officials say the best thing people can do to prevent flu spreading is for sick people to stay home, or go home after they find out they have the illness.

4-H officials began noticing some members from different parts of the state fell ill Tuesday night. But it was early today before any H1N1 cases were confirmed.

State 4-H program leader Dorothy Freeman said that the sick youths were sent home immediately. Others in contact with them were isolated, and were to head home later in the day.

John Stine of the Minnesota Health Department said fair officials did a good job with hygiene, but the flu still can spread regardless of what people do to prevent it.

More nurses will be added to the 4-H staff at the fair, which ends Monday. They will check each 4-H member for flu symptoms twice a day.

Officials said 4-H'ers sent home were from many parts of Minnesota, but they did not identify individual affected members.

Those leaving the fair early, after seven of their expected 12 days, were not happy, but said they understood the need to go home.

"Very sad" is how Liberty BayBridge of Ortonville described her feelings.

However, she added: "I totally respect the decision."

H1N1 flu tends to affect young people much more than those older than 50. Health experts think that is because those born before 1957 have come in contact with a similar flu strain and built up some immunity.

Minnesota has reported three H1N1 deaths, one elderly person and two youths.

The H1N1 pandemic flu is different than the seasonal variety that crops up every year and often affects older people worse.

Magnan and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said the high-profile flu outbreak is bound to be repeated in schools across the state as they open their doors. While most who get this pandemic flu do not become seriously ill, the strain does spread easily.

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.