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Published November 24, 2009, 11:01 PM

Swine Flu Recedes in Minnesota

6 new deaths confirmed.

By: Chris Williams, AP

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Fewer Minnesota residents are being sickened with swine flu as the supply of vaccine catches up with demand, but people should take precautions over Thanksgiving, a health official said Tuesday.

Only 10 schools reported flu outbreaks last week, which was about the same as the week before and well below three weeks in October when more than 200 schools reported outbreaks. Likewise, only 29 people were hospitalized with the disease last week, compared to about 350 reported instances five weeks ago.

"I anticipate that we may well have another several weeks of activity, but I think it's fair to say that we have peaked, as long as everyone takes really good precautions over Thanksgiving," state epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention downgraded Minnesota's flu activity from "widespread" to "regional." Lynfield said that means that less than half the areas of the state now have increasing influenza activity.

"This, however, does not mean that we don't have influenza activity," she said.

The department announced six new deaths in Minnesota from confirmed swine flu infections and a seventh death from a flulike illness that wasn't confirmed as H1N1.

Thirty-two people in Minnesota have now died of confirmed cases of swine flu, and three more of unconfirmed flulike illnesses. Lynfield said the seven new deaths ranged in age from adolescents to people in their early 60s. Six had underlying health conditions.

The Health Department on Tuesday revised its guidelines for swine flu vaccinations to include more people. Kris Ehresmann, the department's director of the infectious disease division, said it's in response to more vaccine flowing into the state.

The department had asked clinics to limit vaccinations to children between the ages of 6 months to 4 years, but broadened its recommendation to include people from ages 6 months to 24 years, regardless of preexisting medical conditions.

The expanded eligible group — which also includes all health care workers, pregnant women and adults with certain health conditions — is estimated at about 2.7 million Minnesotans.

Ehresmann said with nearly one million vaccine doses on order, not everyone in the broader group will be able to get vaccinated right away. However, they can start arranging with their health care providers to do so in the next few weeks.

Officials said those outside the expanded vaccine-eligible group, which was identified by the CDC and adopted by Minnesota, may still need to wait until January to get vaccinated.

Lynfield encouraged Minnesotans to get vaccinated because the state could be hit by another wave of the disease later this winter.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.