WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- The following has been issued by
Military.com'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.
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 Military.com
Reach Stephen Trimble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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