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4-H youth, staff member contract H1N1 swine flu

Penny BayBridge of Ortonville talks to passersby Thursday as she prepares to leave the Minnesota State Fair, one of about 120 4-H members who were asked to leave after four colleagues and a staff member were confirmed to have H1N1 flu. Behind her are some things she and other Big Stone County 4-H'ers took to the fair. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. -- Minnesota 4-H officials are sending 120 youths home from the State Fair after some came down with the H1N1 swine flu.

Four 4-H members and one staffer early Wednesday were confirmed as having the new flu. In all, 14 4-Hers went home sick, but not all were tested.

About 120 more 4-H members were sent home because they stayed in a fair dormitory with those who became ill.

Dr. Bob Rutka, vice president of Medical Affairs for North Country Health Services, said 4-Hers from Beltrami and Roseau counties are some of the youngsters who came down with influenza-like illness (ILI).

He said the 4-hers stay during the fair in dormitories above the swine barn. The youngsters sleep in three-tiered bunks in the boys' room and the girls' room.

"This was a perfect breeding ground for it," Rutka said.

He suggested that the most susceptible people, especially pregnant women be careful about going to places where many people are crowded into a small area.

Health and fair officials said the public is in no increased danger and should not avoid the fair.

Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan said the fair and 4-H leaders did the right thing in sending home the youths, 14 to 19 years old. She said similar situations will play out as Minnesota schools begin fall classes.

4-H officials began noticing some members from different parts of the state fell ill Tuesday night. But it was early Thursday before any H1N1 cases were confirmed.

State 4-H program leader Dorothy Freeman said the sick youths immediately were sent home. Others in contact with them were isolated, and were to head home later in the day.

John Stine of the Minnesota Health Department said fair officials did a good job with hygiene, but the flu still can spread.

The flu, which is spreading worldwide, affects young people more than older ones. None of the 4-H members were thought to be seriously ill.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.