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Local officials remain updated, vigilant as flu outbreak continues

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Morris-area health and safety officials are keeping abreast of the H1N1 flu outbreak through state and national agencies and remain vigilant for possible symptoms among the local population.

Marcia Schroeder, a Registered Nurse with Stevens Traverse Grant Public Health, said the department is continually updated about the flu outbreak by the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

The public should do what it can to become educated about the novel strain, she said.

Minnesota has reported one confirmed case of the virus and another potential case is being investigated.

Schroeder and Karen Folkman, a Licensed School Nurse for the Morris Area School District, said symptoms of the H1N1 flu virus are much the same as a seasonal flu: fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Education is key to combating the virus. Anyone who suspects they might have the virus should stay home, avoid contact with others and call a clinic to discuss the situation with medical professionals before going in. To control the spread of H1N1 or any malady, people should wash their hands regularly and cover their coughs, Schroeder said.

"We're keeping the school districts and emergency management informed, and we're keeping everyone as informed as we can," Schroeder said. "It's important to keep the public informed that they should not panic."

Folkman said no students in the Morris Area district have exhibited any H1N1 symptoms, but that she's watching closely and stressing prevention.

The timing of the H1N1 outbreak could be helpful to health officials since seasonal flu cases should be ebbing by this time of year.

"If we see an upswing in flu symptoms, then we have to get those people checked out," Folkman said.

University of Minnesota, Morris Associate Vice Chancellor Lowell Rasmussen, is head of Plant Services, which includes university Environmental Health and Safety.

The university has met with public health, local school officials and emergency response officials to review plans, and monitoring information from the state Department of Health, the CDC and the World Health Organization and the University of Minnesota.

"We're taking advantage of really good resources available to us to guide us," Rasmussen said.

The university has conducted an internal survey to find students or staff who may have been traveling, especially in Mexico, where it appears the outbreak first manifest itself.

No UMM students are currently in Mexico, and the university has no study abroad programs planned in Mexico, Rasmussen said.

"Currently, we have no students we consider at risk," he said, "but we're a microcosm of society, and we are a very mobile society."

Schroeder and Rasmussen said people should stay calm and remember that, so far, the H1N1 virus is controllable and that symptoms are relatively mild. Two medicines have been effective in fighting the virus, and companies already are working on potential vaccines.

"There are ways of being treated, so that's good," she said.

But the public and health officials must remain on alert. Some believe the virus could abate as summer approaches and resurface in the fall.

"We're being vigilant," Rasmussen said, "and we're following the direction of (Stevens Traverse Grant) public health and the University of Minnesota."