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H1N1 sends 120 4-Hers home from fair

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. -- The magic ended five days early for Liberty BayBridge and about 120 of her fellow 4-Hers. A performer in a 4-H arts troupe putting on a show titled "Magic," BayBridge found herself leaving the Minnesota State Fair 4-H Bui...

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. -- The magic ended five days early for Liberty BayBridge and about 120 of her fellow 4-Hers.

A performer in a 4-H arts troupe putting on a show titled "Magic," BayBridge found herself leaving the Minnesota State Fair 4-H Building dormitory Thursday, a precaution after four of her colleagues and a staff member came down with the H1N1 flu, originally called swine flu.

"I don't like leaving at all," the 18-year-old Ortonville, Minn., youth said as the Twin Cities media crowded around her after word of the fair flu outbreak.

On the other hand, she added, fair and 4-H officials did the right thing in sending home sick youths and those who may have been infected. "I totally respect the decision."

The 4-Hers sent home Thursday came from across Minnesota, the youth organization's leaders said.

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Seventeen 4-Hers went home sick with flu-like illnesses, but not everyone was tested to determine whether they had H1N1. Because of fears the outbreak could spread, the Minnesota Health Department recommended that those with close contact to the sick youths be sent home, too.

Several 4-Hers from Pennington and Marshall counties came down with flu symptoms after being at the fair last week, said Van Swanson, 4-H program director for the two counties. And one returned Thursday but has shown no symptoms.

But other 4-Hers from the two counties left for the fair Thursday because state officials think they are OK to come down, Swanson said.

The state's 4-Hers go down in shifts of sorts, called "encampments," each year because there are too many to hit the fair all at the same time, Swanson said.

Youth showing livestock were there last week and returned Sunday before the flu outbreak was noticed, Swanson said.

About 20 youth left Thief River Falls on a school bus at 8:30 a.m. Thursday and will stay in the 4-H fair dorm. Another 18 or so rode down with their families and likely will stay in motels, Swanson said. About 10 others changed plans and decided not to go after hearing news of the flu, he said.

"We met with them this morning and left it up to each family," he said.

While the livestock exhibitors who returned Sunday weren't sent home because of the flu, about three from each county have shown symptoms of the flu since getting home, Swanson said. No one was hospitalized as far as he's heard, Swanson said, although several were examined by physicians.

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One 4-Her from Thief River Falls was sent home because he was there this week and possibly exposed to the flu.

The Thief River Falls boy was part of the Arts In 4-Hers who perform on stage each day at the fair.

"He has no symptoms," Swanson said. State 4-H officials are working closely with state health officials and "just trying to nip it in the bud," by sending youth home who have been at the fair in recent days.

Precautions are being taken to protect 4-Hers going to the fair, said Swanson, who will travel to the fair this morning.

"They claim it's safe," Swanson said. "They are monitoring the youth down there and doing what they can, along with the Department of Health, to make this a secure situation. I think the state is trying to do a good job. The timing is not great, but they are trying to take every precaution they can."

He said there are about 170 4Hers in Pennington County and about 115 in Marshall County.

Health officials agreed that the fair outbreak was not serious, but said the high-profile problem is a precursor to what Minnesotans should expect in schools around the state.

"This is easily transmitted," Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan said of the H1N1 flu virus, which is different than the seasonal flu variety that also will spread this fall and winter. "There are going to be more cases."

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Davis writes for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com .

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