Troops in S. Korea avoid rash of flu cases
U.S. medical officials in South Korea say an aggressive immunization program has kept the community healthy, even as the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a nationwide alert because of a spike in off-base flu cases.
“So far, so good. I’ll knock on my head, knock on wood. Flu season has not kicked in on U.S. Forces Korea,” said Lt. Col. Eric Lund, 18th Medical Command chief of preventive medicine.
South Korea issued the flu alert Dec. 17 after the number of outpatients showing symptoms of the disease reached 3.34 per 1,000 people. The alerts are mandatory here when the number reaches 3 per 1,000.
On Thursday, a CDC official said in a phone interview that the number has since climbed to 5.5 per 1,000 people and that it could spike to as high as nine per 1,000 by next month.
Lund said that to date this season, only one verified case of flu has been reported in the USFK community. He credits the command’s push for its immunization program.
More than 56,000 immunizations have been administered since October, Lund said, and the medical community has about 10,000 doses left. He said about 95 percent of active-duty personnel have been immunized.
Lund said there was no shortage of vaccine this year, unlike previous years, and it was offered free to people who would normally pay. He said they include civilian contractors and on-base teachers.
U.S. Forces Korea clinics and hospitals also held outreach activities beginning in November, and offered the immunizations in schools, in many offices and during training exercises. They also held clinics for the South Korean employees.
“Getting vaccinated is without a doubt the most effective measure against getting the virus,” Lund said. He said the vaccination provides 90 percent immunity to the flu.
Lund said since hearing about the South Korean alert, he’s considering stepping up his efforts to immunize the rest of the military community, “possibly through availability at a community event.”
Lund said vaccinations are especially important for children younger than 5, adults older than 50 and pregnant women. The flu can be debilitating, even deadly, for people in those groups, he said.
Lund said it’s not too late to get vaccinated. While flu season peaks in January and February, he said, it doesn’t end until late April.
He said anyone in the USFK community who has not received a flu vaccination can get one free at 121st Combat Support Hospital or their local clinic.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.