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Minnesota creates toll-free line for swine flu

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  • Minnesota creates toll-free line for swine flu


    Minnesota creates toll-free line for swine flu

    By CHRIS WILLIAMS Associated Press Writer , The Associated Press - MINNEAPOLIS

    Minnesotans with flu symptoms can now call a toll-free line for free medical advice about treatment options as the swine flu moves through the state.

    The Minnesota FluLine number is 1-866-259-4655. It will be staffed 24 hours per day, every day, and interpreters will be available for non-English speakers. The state Health Department announced details about the line Wednesday.

    Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan said state health officials hope people with flu symptoms will call the line instead of going to clinics and hospitals, where they could infect others and delay treatment for people with more serious problems.

    "We want to make certain the already crowded emergency rooms, doctor's offices, urgent cares are not crowded with more patients, who actually _ with some additional assistance and support _ could manage their flus at home," she said.

    Callers will be asked for some basic information and then be connected to a nurse, who will evaluate the situation and recommend treatment. That could include bed rest, taking prescription anti-viral drugs, or going to a hospital or clinic for a more thorough medical exam.

    While many states have nurse lines or interactive Web sites with information about the swine flu, Minnesota health officials said the Minnesota FluLine is the first statewide line staffed by nurses who can prescribe anti-viral drugs, including Tamiflu.

    Magnan said the nurses can prescribe the drugs under a standing order from a doctor, an arrangement that's legal in response to a pandemic.

    The state has $2.5 million in federal money set aside to pay for the nurse line, but Magnan didn't know how much of it would be used. "We won't know the total costs until we see how many people use it," she said.

    The state flu line is a partnership between the department and several other groups that already have similar lines set up, including Children's Physician Network, which will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of FluLine.

    Dr. Aaron DeVries, a Health Department epidemiologist, said managers will closely monitor how the nurse line works and may make adjustments later.

    The FluLine was created for people with flu symptoms _ not healthy people with questions about the swine flu, which scientists call the 2009 H1N1 strain.

    Flu symptoms include a fever, a cough or sore throat, body aches, headache and chills or fatigue. They also can include vomiting, diarrhea and breathing problems.

    While most people recover from the flu at home without needing to visit a health care provider, it can become severe for people in high-risk groups including children and pregnant women.

    As of Oct. 10, the Health Department reported 482 hospitalizations for swine flu and seven deaths in the state. The hardest hit age group has been children between age 5 and 18. From Oct. 4 to 10 alone, 215 schools reported flu outbreaks.


    On the Net:

    Minnesota Department of Health, flu site: