Uncovers Epidemic of Adenovirus at Training Centers Nationwide

Military Out of Vaccine that Could Have Prevented

Adenovirus-Related Illnesses

Aug 04, 2000, 01:00 ET from

    WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- The following has been issued by's staff writer Stephen Trimble:
     An epidemic of minor respiratory illnesses is gripping boot camps across
 the country -- and there's no vaccine left, military medical researchers say.
     Scientists at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego blame both the
 tiny adenovirus and poor planning by military health officials. The Pentagon
 stopped buying the vaccine several years ago, and the manufacturer has ceased
 production. The final doses were administered last year.
     Now, adenovirus-related illnesses are striking service members at training
 centers, including a spring outbreak that sickened 130 recruits at Fort
 Benning, Ga. Most victims endure cold or flu-like symptoms for three or four
 days. The infections are rarely deadly, but some soldiers have recorded fevers
 of 107 degrees.
     In July, a team of Navy researchers led by Capt. Greg Gray presented a
 report on the situation to officials at the Institute of Medicine. The results
 may have been news to the federal advisory body, but not to many military
     "Those of us in the preventive medicine community saw this coming for a
 long time," said Army Maj. Brian Alsip, a doctor at Fort Benning.
     Gray, a medical scientist, is studying the outbreak at the Naval Health
 Research Center in San Diego. He and others warned about the disease as far
 back as 1995, when Pentagon officials decided not to continue buying the
 vaccine from its former supplier, Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories.
     After inoculating troops steadily since the mid-1970s, the military used
 up its remaining adenovirus vaccine stocks last year. Because no production
 lines are open, no more can be obtained for at least three years, said Gray,
 who in September will publish his findings in a medical journal.
     Pentagon spokesman James Turner had no comment at press time on Aug. 3.
 Wyeth-Ayerst public affairs officials did not return phone calls.
     Breeding ground
     Adenovirus infections now account for 90 percent of all viral infections
 treated by military hospitals, Gray said. The outbreaks have reached epidemic
 levels -- defined as 1.5 cases per 100 people per week -- at several military
     Densely-packed boot camps are the most common targets, Gray said. His team
 of researchers is monitoring epidemics at Fort Benning; Fort Jackson, S.C.;
 Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; Naval Training Center
 Great Lakes, Ill. and Coast Guard's training station at Cape May, N.J. Cases
 have been also reported at the Marine Corps' Parris Island, N.C., and the
 Army's Fort Sill, Okla.
     Cramped conditions make it especially easy for the virus to spread in boot
 camp barracks. It was no shock to Alsip when scores of Fort Benning recruits
 suddenly fell ill last spring. The rapid outbreak, which afflicted 130
 soldiers in a single battalion in a week, forced the post's beleaguered
 hospital staff to convert a barracks into a makeshift infirmary.
     Good hygiene can help prevent the spread, as do clean rooms and fresh air.
 "The disease itself is fairly benign," Alsip said, "but in the context of a
 training unit, it can really be disruptive."
     Boot camp doctors must sweat out the intervening period, knowing the next
 outbreak could strike their troops and disrupt training schedules.
     "You can make sure there is a constant vigilance, but there's a limit to
 what you can do without a primary treatment, which is the vaccine," Alsip
     Another troubled vaccine program
     The adenovirus outbreaks come as military brass struggle with another
 troubled vaccine program: anthrax. In July, defense secretary William Cohen
 announced a slowdown anthrax shots after a private supplier failed a second
 inspection by the Food and Drug Administration.
     Several senators soon asked Pentagon officials why they relied on private,
 profit-seeking vaccine suppliers instead of producing their own vaccine. The
 officials replied that creating an internal production line could take at
 least six years.
     Gray expects the adenovirus to threaten military boot camps for several
 years. So what -- besides maintaining general hygiene -- can recruits do to
 avoid getting sick?
     "That's the $64,000 question," Alsip said. "There isn't a lot to prevent
 this that is as good as the vaccine."
     Copyright (C) 2000
     Reach Stephen Trimble at
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