Military confident viral surveillance will catch any outbreak in Europe
April 28, 2009
Military officials are counting on a "robust surveillance network" to watch for and catch any signs of the latest strain of swine flu infecting servicemembers here in Europe. So far, they said, there is no cause for concern.
The latest strain of swine flu is blamed for possibly killing at least 149 people in Mexico and sickening more than 1,600 people there, The Associated Press reported. About 40 cases have been confirmed in the United States and cases have also been confirmed in Canada, Spain and the United Kingdom as of press time Monday. People in France, Israel and New Zealand have been tested for infection.
Any military response to swine flu would depend on the circumstances, and it is too early to say what steps would be taken if there was an outbreak in Europe, said Army Col. Robert Webb, the commander of the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine-Europe.
Addressing a swine-flu outbreak would involve coordinating with host countries, military officials said. And they plan to raise awareness among servicemembers about swine flu with spots on American Forces Network and by sending out a Force Health Protection Message.
"I think it is important to know we have a robust surveillance network," Webb said. "Of the first seven [swine flu] cases that were identified in the U.S., six were identified by the military. Four by the Navy in San Diego and two by the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine in Texas. I think it shows that the military has very good surveillance."
Three of those cases identified by the Navy were in children, Webb added.
The military monitors flu patterns — whether it is the swine flu that is causing worldwide concern or any other strain — through a system called Early Notification of Community Based-Epidemics, or ESSENCE, said Air Force Col. David Schall, the command surgeon at U.S. European Command’s headquarters. ESSENCE alerts the military when something unusual pops up, and every branch is linked to that computerized system.
"Swine flu is not new. An outbreak occurred in 1976 at Fort Dix, N.J. It led to one death," Schall said.
"It would appear our older, senior folks would be less at risk [from this swine flu]. But there is not enough cases to make a judgment that this is as disease that affects young adults," Schall said.
It is too early to classify this as a pandemic, and that would be a decision that would be made by the World Health Organization, Schall added. "I wouldn’t be surprised if we had another outbreak of an emerging disease."
This strain of swine flu has spurred the United States to declare a public health emergency, which is a standard operating procedure that allows the use of medication and tests that otherwise wouldn’t be used, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a press briefing Sunday.
Military officials said although there is no known vaccine for this latest strain of swine flu, it appears treatable by the drugs Tamiflu and Relenza. And it would not take long to confirm if a servicemember or anyone else treated in a military medical facility became infected.
"Obviously if we need additional Tamiflu, we have a reach back capability [to get more]. We get our supply from CONUS," Schall said, meaning supplies come from the United States.
Test results would determine in 48 hours which strain of flu a servicemember, a dependent or Department of Defense employee has contracted, said Army Col. Richard Jordan, European Regional Medical Command’s deputy commander.
"I think we are doing a better job of testing folks now and screening," said Army Col. Evelyn Barraza, a Europe Regional Medical Command medicine consultant.
"Cases mentioned in news reports have been traced to people who live in or traveled to Mexico recently," Barraza said in a news release. "If you’ve traveled there or had contact with someone who has traveled there recently and think you have the flu, see a doctor."
Swine flu factsWhat it is: A highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus that normally only affects pigs, but can cross the species barrier and affect people.
How it’s spread: By close contact with people who have been infected and from contact with pigs. It can not be transmitted by eating pork products.
Countries with confirmed human cases: Mexico, United States, Canada and Spain as of 3 p.m. Central European Time Monday.
Treatment: There is no vaccine designated to treat it, and it is unknown how effective existing flu vaccines can be.
Symptoms: Fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.8 degrees Celsius, body aches, coughing, sore throat, respiratory congestion and in some cases vomiting and diarrhea.
Source: World Health Organization, The Associated Press