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County health officials watching swine flu issue closely

Washington County Public Health officials provided an update to commissioners Tuesday on the latest news on the swine flu outbreak that has surfaced in several states across the country.

As of Tuesday morning, about 40 cases have been confirmed in Texas, New York, California, Kansas and Ohio.

On Wednesday, Minnesota officials reported the first "probable" case of swine flu in the state.

Prior to this announcement, county officials had uploaded a swine flu link to the homepage of the Washington County website. The link goes directly to the Minnesota Department of Health's web page with the latest information on the swine flu epidemic and basic disease prevention methods.

County public health officials have been in contact with the MDH on a daily basis regarding the issue, said Lowell Johnson, director for the Washington County Public Health and Environment Department.

"All the public health departments around the state are having conference calls with the state health department to stay up to date," Johnson told county commissioners at their weekly board meeting.

In addition, the county public health department has created an incident-and-response team in the case of any sign of a swine flu outbreak in Washington County, Johnson said.

The response team includes Johnson, county epidemiologist Fred Anderson, several public health staff and communications staff.

The county has issued health alerts to various public and private health care providers in the county ranging from school nurses, to clinics and hospitals and will keep those in the health care network apprised of the latest developments, Johnson said.

"We have been working on all these efforts since last week, when the CDC (Center for Disease Control) first publicized the information," Johnson said.

Since last Thursday, officials at the Minnesota Department of Health have been asking hospitals and physicians to submit specimens for testing if they have any patients with the kind of respiratory symptoms that typically characterize influenza.

So far, no confirmed or probable cases of the illness have been detected in Minnesota as a result of the testing effort. Twelve specimens have been tested thus far and all were negative for swine flu, the Minnesota Health Department stated in a press release. However, health officials emphasize that they are concerned about this new strain of swine flu.

"Like other state and local health departments across the country, we are taking the emergence of this unusual flu strain very seriously, and we are working very closely with national and local partners to characterize this outbreak," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, an epidemiologist with state. "Thus far, all of the cases reported in the U.S. have been mild. We will continue to monitor the situation closely."

For the latest information on the Swine Flu issue go to and click on "Swine Flu."