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Don Davis, Published September 04 2009

Swine flu ends Minnesota State Fair fun early for 4-H'ers

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

A performer in a 4-H arts troupe, 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 youth said as the Twin Cities media crowded around her following 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-H’ers sent home Thursday came from across Minnesota, the youth organization’s leaders said.

Seventeen 4-H’ers 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 state Health Department recommended that those with close contact to the sick youths be sent home, too.

After 4-H’ers cleared out of the dormitory at mid-afternoon, 4-H program leader Dorothy McCargo Freeman said the dorm was sanitized so a new group of 4-Hers already scheduled to arrive later Thursday would be safe.

Luke Brekke, 13, of Scott County was not one of those sent home, but felt their pain.

“Some people here are a little bummed out,” he said.

And, with reporters and cameras hovering nearby, he added: “This is being made a bigger deal than it really is.”

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 across 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.”

Like most who get this variety of flu, which has become a worldwide pandemic, the Minnesota 4-H’ers are not thought to be seriously ill. H1N1 tends to affect young people much more than those older than 50. Health experts think that is because those born before 1957 have come in contact with a similar flu strain and built up some immunity.

However, one of three Minnesota deaths was an elderly victim.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com