Worldwide Military Screening Program Prompts Fast H1N1 Flu Identification
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 27, 2009 The Defense Department’s worldwide influenza monitoring program and decisive action by the medical staff at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, is being credited with helping to identify two cases of H1N1 flu early to help prevent a potential spread.
Two 16-year-old boys, both military family members and students at Steele High School in Cibolo, Texas, reported to the Randolph Military Clinic in mid-April suffering from fever, coughs and chills. Air Force Lt. Col. Gregory York, deputy commander of the 12th Medical Group, said both exhibited “classic flu-like symptoms.”
Rather than simply sending the boys home to rest and hydrate, their doctors took the extra step of harvesting “nasal washes” and submitting them for testing through the Defense Department's Worldwide Influenza Surveillance Program, York explained.
The Air Force established the lab-based influenza surveillance program in 1976 at what is now Brooks City-Base, also in San Antonio. The lab routinely monitors suspected flu cases from military bases around the world, as well as from targeted “sentinel sites” to detect local respiratory outbreaks and emerging strains.
The lab identified both boys’ cultures as “Influenza A,” but couldn’t pin down the specific influenza sub-type. That automatically triggered staffers there to fly the cultures to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for additional testing. Those tests confirmed late last week that the cultures were H1N1 flu.
As the testing was conducted, both boys were at their homes, getting bed rest and drinking fluids as their doctors had advised. But even more importantly, York said, they minimized contact with other people – critical to “breaking that chain” of spreading the contagious flu virus.
Both boys have made full recoveries, and no additional cases have been identified at the Randolph clinic, York said.
But that’s not stopping the staff at Randolph from taking a strong, pro-active approach to preventing further infections, York added. In addition to an aggressive base education program being conducted in cooperation with the CDC and Texas Department of Health, the clinic is screening all incoming patients who exhibit flu-like symptoms.
Patients with fevers of 100.5 degrees or higher or sore throats and coughs are issued protective masks and isolated from other patients to be evaluated for influenza, York said.
While emphasizing that Randolph is at no higher risk than anywhere else, York said the staff has become especially vigilant in trying to identify those with possible symptoms as early as possible. “Our antennas are up a bit higher,” he said.
“Surveillance and infection control are the keys to avoiding contact and the spread of the virus,” York said. “It all falls on prevention and being on top of this to identify individuals up front as fast as possible to break the chain.”