Flu cases rise: H1N1 cases concentrated among BCT Soldiers
July 23, 2009
- Flu cases are concentrated among BCT Soldiers; no cadre have been infected.
- Officials say cases are high because the infected Soldiers come from all over the world to train at Fort Jackson.
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Fort Jackson's H1N1 influenza cases are steadily climbing among Basic Combat Training Soldiers.
As of yesterday morning, the installation's H1N1 cases rose to 109, up by 28 from this past weekend, said Lt. Col. Marilyn Lazarz, chief of Army Public Health Nursing at Fort Jackson.
Lazarz said the virus is more active among BCT Soldiers because they live within close quarters - in barracks - and tend to share personal items. Also, some Soldiers are reluctant to come forward when they start exhibiting symptoms, which include fever, coughing, sneezing and lethargy.
"They (tend) not to say anything because they don't want to risk finishing their training," Lazarz said.
Lazarz also stressed that because these new Soldiers come from all over the nation and world for training at Fort Jackson, it is difficult to determine the source of the outbreak.
As of yet, there are no known cases of H1N1 among the installation's drill sergeants who train new Soldiers daily, she said.
To tell whether a person has been infected by the H1N1 virus, he or she is first tested for the traditional, seasonal flu, which causes most of the same symptoms. If the first test indicates a need for further evaluation, more detailed tests are done to determine whether the strain is H1N1.
"If they have a temperature of 100.5 degrees or more, we do a rapid flu test for Influenza A (human seasonal flu) and more subtyping -- using a second culture -- is done," Lazarz said.
Lazarz said those suspected of having H1N1 and those who are trying to prevent the spread of H1N1 should stay 3 to 6 feet away from others, cough into their sleeve at all times, refrain from sharing food and wash their hands. She also asks Soldiers to sleep head-to-toe in bunks so that if one coughs or sneezes during the night, the other Soldier is on the opposite end of the dispersion of droplets.
"The virus is spread via droplets (sneezing and coughing) ... and it can live on inanimate surfaces for at least two to three hours," she said.
So, sanitizing your hands and keeping them away from your eyes and mouth is critical, she said.
Soldiers confirmed to have the virus are isolated to "sick-in quarters" on post or confined to their homes for eight days.
Compared to other military installations across the country, Fort Jackson ranks among the top for H1N1 cases. Fort Jackson is one of the Army's largest training installations. More than 50,000 Initial Entry Training Soldiers pass through its gates each year.
Lazarz said that according to Army reports, as of Monday, Fort Lewis, Wash., has 117 cases; Fort Sam Houston, Texas, has 130 cases; and Fort Bliss, Texas, has 173 cases.
Fort Jackson officials are working with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control - also known as DHEC - to test for and monitor the spread of the H1N1 virus. Fort Jackson, along with Richland, Lexington, Fairfield and Newberry counties, has been grouped as Region 3 by the state agency.
Dr. Gil Potter, DHEC Region 3 medical director, said that there are more than 300 cases of H1N1 flu in South Carolina. As of yesterday, Richland County, including Fort Jackson, has a total of 113 cases.
During in-processing, all new Soldiers are required to undergo medical examinations.
Potter said because Fort Jackson performs medical tests on every Soldier, this might make its number of confirmed cases greater and give the appearance that most of
Richland County's cases are concentrated on Fort Jackson. DHEC only tests one to two people per a H1N1 flu suspected group or population, Potter said.
The agency's epidemiology coordinator for Region 3, Donna Coyle, a registered nurse., said they have no confirmed cases of H1N1 flu among civilians who work on post. A 10-year-old was diagnosed with H1N1 at MACH Tuesday, Coyle said.
Potter said people in their teens up to those in their mid-50s tend to be more susceptible to the H1N1 virus. That is a stark difference from the traditional, seasonal flu which tends to more so affect the very young and the very old. Both strains of the flu can prove detrimental to those with high-risk medical issues, such as a compromised immune system and undergoing chemotherapy.
When the traditional flu season hits this winter, health officials expect that H1N1 cases may go up even more. Potter said the Southern Hemisphere, which is now in its flu season, is experiencing hundreds of H1N1cases and deaths, particularly in South America.
But he said, "We don't know what's going to happen in the fall. We're in a surveillance and severity mode."
Potter said local and national health officials are monitoring the virus' impact, watching for any changes or morphing of the virus.
John Coynor, Fort Jackson's force protection officer, said there is a tentative plan to offer the H1N1 vaccination to everyone who lives and works on post, pending the release of such vaccinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vaccine is expected to become available in the fall. When it does become available, DHEC and the Army would distribute the vaccinations to the Fort Jackson community, Coynor said.
"The most important thing people can do right now is practice good sanitation. Wash your hands, use (hand sanitizers) and (antibacterial) wipes," Coynor said.