By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
May 6, 2009 - The U.S. military has prepared for years to confront a public health challenge like the H1N1 influenza virus, a senior Defense Department official said here today. "We have been preparing for a situation like this for more than five years and have plans, processes and procedures to respond to a pandemic incident," said Dr. Michael E. Kilpatrick, the Military Health System's director of strategic communications.
"We are confident that established protocols and treatments will be effective in treating this flu, which currently is no more serious that seasonal flu," Kilpatrick said.
Meanwhile, Kilpatrick said, Defense Department officials are closely monitoring the path of the H1N1 flu virus.
Yesterday, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center reported a total of 24 confirmed H1N1 cases in the U.S. military, including 13 military family members, 10 active-duty servicemembers and one Marine recruit. The cases occurred in Texas and California.
As of today, there are 642 laboratory-confirmed cases of human H1N1 virus infection in 41 states in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC officials also said another 845 probable human cases of H1N1 virus infection have been reported from 42 states and the District of Columbia, for a total of 1,487 confirmed and probable cases in 44 states.
Two people in the United States have died from the H1N1 virus, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization said the virus has been reported in 22 other countries.
Symptoms associated with H1N1 flu include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, symptoms that are similar to those of common flu, Kilpatrick said. People who believe they may have contracted H1N1 should contact their health care provider, who will ascertain whether testing or treatment is required, he added.
Kilpatrick said servicemembers and their families should look for the latest news about the H1N1 virus at the Pandemic Influenza Watchboard at www.dod.mil/pandemicflu, the official Defense Department site for issues related to this topic.
Although the CDC indicates antiviral medications such as Tamiflu or Relenza can be effective, Kilpatrick said, the Defense Department "does not recommend their use unless prescribed by a physician."
"Inappropriate use of these medications could lead to a shortage for those who really need it," Kilpatrick added.
The CDC noted recently that the virus's spread seems to have slowed, and that its effects, for the most part, have been relatively mild, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said May 4.
"As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted over the weekend, we have started to see encouraging signs that this virus may be mild and its spread may be limited," Napolitano said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry has distributed CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of H1N1 flu to the federal work force. Berry also distributed guidance for federal agencies to protect their work forces and the public and to ensure continuity of operations in the event that they must institute their already-prepared pandemic influenza preparedness plans.
CDC recommends the following actions people can take to stay healthy:
-- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
-- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective.
-- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
CDC also recommends avoiding close contact with sick people, particularly if they are coughing or sneezing, and to stay home if you're sick to avoid infecting others.