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North Dakota, Minnesota monitor for swine flu cases

Swine flu

Public health officials in North Dakota and Minnesota are keeping watch for a new strain of flu that has appeared in five states so far, and in Mexico, where deaths have been reported.

On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said all unnecessary travel to Mexico should be postponed.

All swine flu cases in the United States have so far been mild, and the patients have recovered.

Because of that, Minnesota and North Dakota officials say if any cases arise in their states they will be handled much the way a seasonal case of flu is handled.

That means the patient would be advised to stay home and limit contact with others. Family members also would be urged to voluntarily limit contact with others for a time.

If more serious cases emerge, more serious steps could be taken, such as limiting public gatherings or closing schools, said Ruth Lynfield, Minnesota's state epidemiologist.

Health practitioners in both states have been told to refer suspected cases to state labs for testing.

In Minnesota, 14 cases have been tested, while 40 await testing results, Lynfield said.

Drugs effective

Representatives of Fargo-Moorhead-area hospitals and colleges will meet today to discuss the flu situation, said Ruth Bachmeier, Fargo Cass Public Health director.

She said it is unknown whether people who have been exposed to the flu would be treated with drugs effective against the swine flu strain.

Much depends on timing.

Bachmeier said treatment is most effective when started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

North Dakota officials said the state had enough antiviral drugs on hand to treat 57,000 adults and nearly 10,000 children. They said the federal government was sending supplies that could treat an additional 24,000 adults and 2,900 additional children.

Minnesota officials said Monday they were still tallying the amount of antiviral drugs available.

Kathy McKay, director of Clay County Public Health, said anyone with symptoms should see a doctor, but she said if the symptoms aren't there, people shouldn't rush to the hospital.

"We don't want to overwhelm our medical system. We want to monitor this closely, but we don't want to create mass panic," said McKay.

Hygiene best defense

North Dakota Health Officer Terry Dwelle said individuals are in the best position to defend themselves from the disease by following basic steps, such as frequently washing their hands and keeping their hands away from their face.

Those habits can decrease the number of flu cases by 73 percent, officials said.

As of late Monday, five states - California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas - had confirmed cases of swine flu, while cases were also reported in Canada, New Zealand and Spain.

The South Dakota Health Department was investigating two suspected cases of people who recently traveled to areas where flu was confirmed.

Bachmeier said flu viruses are always changing, but what makes the current strain so dangerous is that it has genetic connections not just to swine and humans, but birds as well.

Officials stressed Monday that eating pork will not cause the flu.

The current outbreak of flu, which North Dakota officials said should be called the North American flu, is officially not a pandemic, a term that refers to a new disease that displays sustained transmission around the world.

Officials said the swine flu that surfaced in 1976 had the makings of a pandemic but fizzled.

The last swine flu pandemic was in 1968-69.