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120 4-H'ers sent home from State Fair

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 today were confirmed as having the new flu. In all, 14 4-H'ers went home sick, but not all were tested.

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

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 that 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 today before any H1N1 cases were confirmed.

State 4-H program leader Dorothy Freeman said that 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 hygeine, 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.

"Our commitment is to keep our 4-H youth safe," 4-H State Program Leader Dorothy McCargo Freeman said in a press release.  "Minnesota 4-H is very concerned about the health and well-being of its members. We will continue to monitor our youth very closely and will take appropriate action when necessary. With the exception of some leadership and performing arts programs, all other 4-H activities will continue as originally scheduled."

"It is important to point out that it is perfectly safe for people to come to the State Fair. We do want to remind people that if you are sick you should stay home. It is also a good idea to wash your hands frequently and cover any coughs or sneezes," said John Stine, Assistant Commissioner of Health at MDH.

"The 4-Hers are very disappointed with our decision," said Jerry Hammer, executive vice president of the fair, "but we would rather err on the side of caution than to take a chance with the health and well being of these young men and women."

Further information on the novel H1N1 virus is available on the Minnesota Department of Health's website at MDH can also be reached at (651) 201-5414.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.