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New swine flu case under investigation

A second probable Minnesota H1N1 swine flu case is being investigated.

"That person is recovering nicely at home - was not hospitalized," Minnesota Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan said Friday on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's weekly radio show.

The state Health Department announced it is sending a laboratory sample from Isanti County, north of the Twin Cities, to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing. The state lab tested the sample, which appeared to indicate the new flu, but the federal facility in Atlanta must confirm it.

Magnan said that even before the case came to light, Isanti health officials were meeting with school leaders and others to prepare for the flu.

In taking a call from a listener, Magnan said employers should require sick workers to stay home, both for the employee's sake and those of co-workers.

"Please stay home," the commissioner pleaded to sick Minnesotans.

The first confirmed Minnesota H1N1 swine flu victim had ties to a Cold Spring middle school in central Minnesota. That victim, who also did not require hospitalization, had contact with someone who had visited Mexico, where the flu outbreak is worse.

State "epidemiologists are investigating whether there is a link to Mexico or to other areas where cases have occurred," the Health Department reported about the second Minnesota case. "This case does not involve a school."

The state health lab tests showed the new case as probable with findings that the person had type A flu. However, the exact flu strain could not be determined.

The Minnesota lab is due to soon receive test kits that will allow it to single out the H1N1 virus.

While Mexico has reported the most H1N1 flu cases, it is spreading so quickly that "the direct link to travel to Mexico will become less important or irrelevant," Pawlenty said.

Magnan said health experts do not know the future of this flu because it is so new. So far, many cases have been fairly mild.

"We have to remember that the flu bug is unpredictable," the commissioner said. "So far, we are seeing it act more like seasonal influenza."

The virus could mutate and return in a stronger form, or it could disappear.

Magnan recommended that Minnesotans wash their hands with soap and water frequently, and long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.

"Don't touch your eyes and nose and mouth because that this how the influenza spreads," she added.

While she wants sick people to stay home, if they do go out, she said they should "do social distancing, which means stay six feet away from people."

The new flu is much like the seasonable variety, with fever, cough, sore throat and aches, Magnan said.

For those who think they may have the flu, she recommended: "Call your doctor, don't rush into the clinic."

The virus has sickened people in 11 countries. One death has been reported in the United States, but health officials warn that the flu could become a pandemic and kill many.

Minnesota health officials have tested 224 samples from people with flu symptoms, with more than 30 left to be checked.

A Minnesota Health Department H1N1 swine flu hotline for the public to ask questions is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, at (800) 657-3903.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Park Rapids Enterprise. He can be reached at mnbureau@forum