Europe gets hit with U.S. strain of flu virus
December 15, 2003
LANDSTUHL, Germany — The flu strain that has closed stateside schools, filled hospitals and has taken the lives of at least 20 children has arrived in Europe.
Ten children in the Kaiserslautern military community have been diagnosed with the virus, according to Dr. (Lt. Col.) Loren Erickson, commander of the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Europe. The children affected are all under age 5.
Erickson said Friday there may be others with the Type A flu strain, but so far these 10 are the only ones confirmed
Erickson added that there is plenty of vaccine for active-duty servicemembers, family members and Department of Defense civilians and retirees in Europe.
However, the time to get vaccinated is crucial. It takes two weeks for a person’s body to become immune to the virus after getting the vaccination. Many of the children in the United States had gotten the vaccine, but were infected before the window of immunity had been reached.
Those still needing flu shots should contact local health clinics for instructions on how to get them.
Another strain of type A influenza was responsible for the deaths of some 500,000 Americans in 1918. That pandemic, known as the Spanish flu, sickened an estimated 20 percent to 40 percent of the world’s population, with a death toll believed to exceed 20 million.
An ordinary flu epidemic kills an average of 36,000 Americans through the virus and complications.
“There have been pronouncements from doctors at the Mayo Clinic that it’s the worst in 30 years,” Erickson said.
“Now I don’t know if it’s the worst in 30 years, but it is bad enough that I can comfortably say that it’s the worst we’ve seen in several years.”
Everyone 6 months and older should be vaccinated, he said, especially at-risk groups such as children, women in their second and third trimester of pregnancy, people with chronic diseases and people older than 65.
The only group excluded from the vaccine would be those people who have suffered a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine before or people who are allergic to eggs. Women in their first trimester of pregnancy should check with their doctor before getting vaccinated.
The fact that so many children have been affected has Erickson and others at the preventive medicine center concerned. In addition, the onset of the virus has occurred two weeks earlier than in most years, he said.
“This is one of those years where everyone needs to be immunized,” he said.
“We don’t want to waste any more time. The fact that the virus is in our community means that we’re exposed.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.