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DoD Health Officials Prescribe Protection Against Deadly Flu Virus

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2003 – With flu season here and deadly outbreaks of the virus being reported across the country, Defense Department health care officials are urging military personnel, DoD civilians and family members to get vaccinated.

Dr. David Tornberg, deputy assistant secretary of defense for clinical and program policy, advises that the "most protective" measure to prevent or lessen the harshness of the virus is to get vaccinated annually.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is caused by the influenza virus, which infects the nose, throat and lungs. The flu usually spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, sending the virus into the air.

Unlike other viral respiratory infections like the common cold, the flu causes severe illness and can be life- threatening in many people. Symptoms include fever, headache, tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches. Tornberg said while the vaccine is not 100 percent effective in preventing the flu virus, it is "100 percent effective in reducing" the severity of symptoms that many people will encounter. "And for many people it is an absolute immunity against the virus," he noted.

Tornberg further suggested that people should take preventive measures to protect themselves, such as avoiding or being in close contact with anyone who may have the flu.

He also stressed the importance of frequent hand washing. He pointed out that hands transmit the virus, which can exist on surfaces.

In addition, he emphasized that people minimize contact between their hands, mouths and eyes. "If their hands are contaminated, they can very well infect themselves through transmission through the eye and its secretions, the nose or oral pathway," Tornberg said.

Another recommendation: Lead a healthy lifestyle. "Adequate rest and nutrition and hydration are very important as part of a daily approach keeping the body healthy to fight off disease," He noted.

Tornberg said these protective measures should become part of people's daily activities to keep from getting the flu virus.

"Combined with the flu vaccine, personal health care measures such as hand washing and hygiene all will go a long way to minimizing the chances of getting sick," he emphasized.

Although last year at this time DoD health officials were faced with a more serious form of respiratory illness-- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, that is not the case this year.

Tornberg said that the World Health Organization has not reported any cases of SARS anywhere in the world and that there are no reported cases among U.S. military personnel.

SARS has flu-like symptoms that include fever, body aches, headaches, sore throat, dry cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. According to CDC, the syndrome may be associated with other symptoms, including headache, muscular stiffness and loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rash and diarrhea.

Nevertheless, Tornberg said that if a person is experiencing symptoms of influenza or SARS, he or she should consult a doctor to obtain definitive care and diagnosis to prevent spreading the condition to friends and family and associates.

"That's where public health measures come into play," he said. "The public needs to be proactive with regard to respiratory diseases. We need basically to stay aware, follow the news and understand where potential pockets of illness may be, whether it is flu or even greater concern, SARS."

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