Military.com Uncovers Epidemic of Adenovirus at Training Centers Nationwide
Military Out of Vaccine that Could Have Prevented
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 doctors. "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 installations. 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 said. 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. About Military.com Military.com (www.military.com) is the online home for the 80 million Americans with close ties to the military: active duty, reservists, guard members, retirees, veterans, defense workers, family members and enthusiasts. Military.com is the destination site connecting this community and offering members meaningful content, resources and services. As custodian of America's military legacy, Military.com collects the stories of the men and women who have served. Military.com gives voice to those who made history and context to those who want to learn more. Founded by members of the military community and Internet professionals, Military.com has offices in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The company is funded by the Mayfield Fund, U.S. Venture Partners, Broadview International, PRIMEDIA Ventures and A&E Television Networks. Visit the community at www.military.com.
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