By SUSANNE KAPPLER, Leader StaffMay 7, 2009
The number of confirmed H1N1 infections in South Carolina is listed at 16 as of yesterday, but no cases are reported on Fort Jackson.
Col. Nancy Hughes, Moncrief Army Community Hospital commander, explained that MACH is monitoring the situation closely. She said the hospital has been working closely with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Army Medical Department to keep informed about the latest developments. In addition, she said, the hospital is working with installation leaders on plans to avoid or contain a possible H1N1 outbreak.
"We're the ones that sort of bring AMEDD and the installation together and help make sure that what both groups want to do - the hospital's ready to meet that mission," Hughes said.
MACH has taken several measures to prevent an outbreak.
One practice that has been in place for several months at MACH to help prevent contagious diseases from spreading is the availability of respiratory stations. The stations offer free masks, tissues and hand sanitizer and are located in hospital waiting areas. The stations have also been added to the 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception) area, Hughes said.
MACH also is distributing informational flyers and is educating cadre on H1N1 prevention, said Lt. Col. Marilyn Lazanz, MACH chief of preventive medicine.
In the event the H1N1 virus reaches Fort Jackson, the installation is prepared to deal with a possible outbreak, said John Coynor, the installation's force protection officer. Fort Jackson has a "pandemic influenza plan," and most recently practiced its implementation during an exercise last October.
Coynor explained that the most likely way for any epidemic to infiltrate Fort Jackson is through Soldiers inprocessing with the 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception).
"Those people are coming here from all over the country, and they go through airports," he said. "They could just as easily be coming through an area where the flu exists or sitting on the plane next to someone who has the flu."
To make sure a newly arriving Soldier does not bring the flu on post, all incoming Soldiers are screened at the battalion's Physical Exam Station upon their arrival.
"If we catch them there, we can hopefully keep (a virus) out of the general population," Coynor said.
Any Soldiers suspected to be infected would immediately be segregated from their peers.
"We would isolate them at the 120th until the medical personnel determine that they actually have the H1N1 virus," Coynor said.
He added that the chance of Soldiers being exposed to the flu during Basic Combat Training is extremely slim, since Soldiers have very limited physical contact with people from outside the post.
"Our people who are currently in training live in a type of isolation anyway. They don't leave ... to go downtown or to go to the movies," he said. "The only people that they come in contact with from the outside are their own drill sergeants ... and the people in the dining facilities. ... So they're living in a type of quarantine already."
In the event that the flu infiltrates a BCT unit, procedures are in place to prevent the virus from spreading. Soldiers who report to sick call with flu-like symptoms are not sent to the Troop Medical Clinic, but will be examined by medical personnel at their unit.
"At that time we want to move this person who's presented with these flu symptoms away from everybody else," Coynor said.
If, after examination, it is determined that the Soldier might be affected, he or she will be hospitalized. The next step is to isolate the people who have been in close contact with the infected Soldier for the duration of the incubation period, Coynor said.
"We continue to train them," he said. "But we keep them away from the other Soldiers."
The influenza plan also includes contingencies for an outbreak among the post's civilian population.
"Fort Jackson is prepared for anything that can happen," Coynor said.
Hughes hopes the current focus on H1N1 will have a positive long-term effect.
"We're more concerned about what happens in the fall, when the other influenza hits," Hughes said. "We're hoping that people, come the fall, will remember how important it is to get their flu shots."