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'Unpredictable' influenza threat tapers off

It looks as if the swine flu scare is tempering. At least for now.

"Influenza can be unpredictable and it changes all the time," said Dr. Sanne Magnan, state health commissioner.

However, there are a couple of welcome signs of relief from this initial outbreak.

"It seems to be acting as seasonal influenza at this time," Magnan said.

The threat isn't completely over as health officials across the country said that the H1N1 swine flu virus could change to a more severe form.

"With novel influenza, there is a possibility of having a severe influenza with high death rate," Magnan said.

Only one confirmed case of swine flu, with 12 probable cases, have been detected in Minnesota thus far. The only confirmed case has occurred in Cold Spring, with most of the probable cases located in the Twin Cities area. None of the cases are in Becker County or counties adjacent to it.

The lack of new cases is leading to a new approach by state health officials.

"Our response has always been gauged on the severity of the illness," Magnan said.

Schools now have a few options if a case of swine flu is detected. A school could operate normally if the affected person is isolated at home.

Other options include closing at the discretion of school officials.

"If we have a large number of students or faculty that are ill, schools may decide to close the facility," Magnan said.

Schools that reopen shouldn't pose a threat to additional outbreaks because the virus only lives for a couple of hours on surfaces. Common cleaning solutions are sufficient to disinfect surfaces and schools do not have to do anything special to avert the threat.

The state's new guidelines preceded to CDC guidelines that states that schools do not have to close if a student or staff member is found to have swine flu.

Detroit Lakes Public Schools took the precaution of sanitizing surfaces this past weekend, said Superintendent Doug Froke. That was a precautionary measure because of the virus' life span outside of the body.

Schools are asked to report any increase in absentee rate to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Besides schools being on the lookout for swine flu, Magnan said that companies bear some responsibility in helping decrease the possibility of spreading the virus.

"Employers should insist that employees stay home when they are ill," she said.

The main danger with swine flu is that there isn't a vaccine yet.

Magnan said that the easiest way to stop the spread of the virus is that anyone who is sick should just stay home. Covering mouths while coughing and frequent hand washing will also help keep the flu from spreading.

Helping the swine flu fight will be the ability of the state to confirm swine flu cases without shipping lab samples to the CDC. In addition, the state will only test those who have been hospitalized with flu symptoms for swine flu.

The news on the virus front is a welcome one, Magnan said.

"The world looks very different today than it did a week ago, when in Minnesota we had very little information about the influenza virus," she said.