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First H1N1 flu cases hit Becker County

After 10 children attending a Concordia Language camp at Maplelag were sent home on July 11 with suspected H1N1 infection, Becker County Human Services is concerned that when the virus hits a large population of Becker County, particularly during the school year, they may not have sufficient funds to handle the pandemic or distribute vaccines.

Four of the 10 children, who are from all around the country, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and Virginia state, were tested and confirmed to have the H1N1 virus, also known as Swine Flu, said Becker County Community Health Supervisor Ronda Stock.

In addition, camp workers have likely also been affected, Stock said.

Although the spread of H1N1 has been so fast that it is now considered a pandemic, she stressed that the severity of the flu is not as bad as some people think - certainly not as bad as the famed 1918 Spanish flu that killed millions.

"It's a flu, but for those of us that are reasonably healthy, we're going to withstand this," she said. "But we need to stay home and not spread it."

Only four of the 10 children were tested for the virus, Stock said, because the policy right now is to mainly go with "symptomology," and only test severe cases.

The main concern for the county at this point, she said, is the ramifications that come from a wide population being sick for seven to nine days - the recommended length of isolation if a person has H1N1.

"If you have three or two children that are school age, and they can't go to school for seven days and two more days after they're symptom free, that's nine days of daycare you don't have, that's nine days of reimbursement for the schools," she said. "The ramifications are quite huge, not to mention, if you talk high school age, how are those kids going to make requirements for graduation? It's really quite huge. I don't want to minimize the impact of this."

At Tuesday's joint city-county-school board-chamber meeting, Nancy Nelson, Becker County's Human Services director, expressed concern that the county won't be able to pay for an imminent pandemic.

"In unallotments, the money for this was slashed -- we have no money," she said. "In the event that there is a vaccine this fall, which is up in the air, we need the funds to give that. We have none. We have not even the supplies to give that, but also for the staff to do a large mass dispensive."

Stock also said it was a "huge concern."

"I have no funds for a pandemic," she said. "I've got seven nurses for 30,000 people ... I can only hope that if the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does give me the antivirals, that they'll give the stuff to do it with, the syringes, the gloves, the Band-Aids, all that has to come out of local public health dollars."

Nelson said at the meeting that she was confident it would hit hard during the school year.

"That's what we're planning for. We do think it's going to hit," Nelson said. "To say it's a possibility is not realistic, I think it's going to happen. How hard it happens is the thing."

Although these are the first confirmed cases, Stock said it's likely there have been other people in the county that have had it and not been tested, which she said is fine for people that are in good health and can handle it.

Symptoms are similar to a seasonal flu, including headaches, sore throat, and a fever, but mostly very bad body aches.

"Where your skin, your eyelashes, your toenails absolutely ache, and you can't do anything," Stock said.

Since a vaccine hasn't been developed yet, Stock said the best prevention measures are basic hygiene rules like washing your hands, coughing into your elbow, and staying home if you think you're sick.