Support our mission

ARLINGTON, Va. — Officials at Hill Air Force Base in Utah have confirmed what could be the first two cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome reported among the military community.

Two retired Air Force officers, including one who works as a contractor for the 75th Medical Group at Hill, apparently came down with the illness while traveling in Asia in March, according to a press release issued by Hill officials on Wednesday.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the cases on April 21, after Maj. Melinda Screws, a physician who treated the contractor at Hill Air Force Medical Center, sent lab tests to the Atlanta agency.

The other patient was treated by the Davis County Public Health Department, which also suspected SARS.

“One patient came to us March 24 with recovering upper respiratory symptoms. We got in touch with Davis County Public Health Department, and tests were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Screws said in the April 23 press release from Hill.

The Air Force retirees are unique among the more than 230 cases of suspect SARS in the United States, because they did not fit the case profile developed by the CDC to help doctors identify possible SARS patients, according to Dr. Robert Rolfs, Utah’s state epidemiologist.

Neither of the retired officers actually had taken their temperature while acutely ill in Asia, and so neither had noted a fever above 100 degrees F — one of the CDC’s principal markers for SARS, Rolfs said in a Wednesday telephone interview.

Nevertheless, “I was convinced [that the patient] had had a fever,” he said, based on the person’s description of his symptoms.

“Despite the CDC’s low suspicion due to the absence of fever, we monitored the patient for SARS,” Screws said about the contractor.

“The tests for SARS are new and unfortunately the results take a while,” Screws said, explaining the monthlong gap between the report to CDC and the reported results.

Not only are the tests new, they are still apparently not entirely reliable, because the CDC backed off its initial diagnosis slightly on Wednesday, Rolfs said.

The CDC contacted Rolfs at the Utah Department of Health on Wednesday morning to say that and said more tests needed to be run to absolutely confirm the presence of the virus in the two retired officers, Rolfs said.

Until those new tests are completed, possibly early next week, “there’s not a completely clear case” that either person had SARS, he said.

Meanwhile, the patients were treated as if they did, in fact, have SARS when the patients first presented themselves to the physicians.

Both people were asked to isolate themselves for a period of about 13 days, in accordance with CDC recommendations, and both individuals complied with the request.

Both are now fully recovered and back at work, Rolfs said.

Based on the believed SARS incubation period of two to 10 days, and the fact that the retired members already were past the estimated infectious stage of SARS when they returned to the United States, health officials do not believe that anyone in Utah has been infected as a result of contact with the retired officers, Rolfs said.

“We haven’t had any cases of secondary transmission,” Rolfs said. “Never say never, but we have no evidence” that the members have passed SARS to other people.

To date, seven individuals in Utah have been identified as meeting a case definition of SARS.

As of April 23, almost 4,000 people in 27 countries had been diagnosed with the illness, and 229 have died, according to the CDC. No deaths have been reported in the United States.

SARS Q&A

Q: What is SARS?A: SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is a severe form of pneumonia that appears to have originated in China.

Q: What can I do to protect my family and myself?A: There are several measures you can take, including:

• Wash your hands often.• Try to avoid touching your face, which moves infectious particles on your hands to your mouth and nose.• Cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze.• Don’t spend a lot of time around people who are sick.

Q: What is the Defense Department doing about SARS?A: DOD officials have issued a forcewide advisory recommending that military members and civilians take precautions against SARS. Officials in Pacific Command, where the virus has been most active, are allowing DOD personnel to make only mission-essential trips to China and Hong Kong.

For more information on SARS, go to www.cdc.gov or see the Pentagon’s Health Affairs extended message at www.ha.osd.mil/asd/message.html

— Lisa Burgess


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up