No announcement yet.

Fox Army Health Center prepares for battle against influenza season

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Fox Army Health Center prepares for battle against influenza season


    Fox prepares for battle against influenza season
    Posted by Kari Hawkings October 15, 2008 4:42 PM

    Health center sees
    risk from bird flu

    Staff writer

    Military success on the battlefield is only possible when there is an aggressive strategic plan in place - and so it is true, too, when fighting communicable diseases that can spread through the population like wildfire.

    And, as the flu season draws nearer, Fox Army Health Center is once again at the forefront of Redstone Arsenal's battle against this highly infectious disease.

    This year, however, the worries of a pandemic influenza outbreak are heightened.

    Since 2003, there have been growing fears of a pandemic influenza outbreak, which is a global outbreak of a flu virus that most people are not immune to and that spreads easily from person to person. The World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Center for Disease Control and Prevention and various international health organizations are increasingly concerned that the spread of avian influenza A (H5N1) - more popularly known as the bird flu - from Asia, Europe and Africa to the rest of the world represents a significant threat to human health. Though this deadly strain of flu is currently only transmitted to humans through direct contact with infected poultry or wild birds, it is thought that eventually this influenza virus will evolve so that it can spread more easily to humans and from human-to-human contact.

    To combat the growing threat of a pandemic influenza outbreak, the Northern Command, which is charged with defending America's homeland, has developed a comprehensive national pandemic influenza plan. To support this effort, the Army's Southeast Regional Medical Command has charged its hospitals and centers with conducting a pandemic influenza exercise, and assisting Garrison officials with writing or updating pandemic influenza plans.

    In response, Fox Army Health Center will participate in a pandemic influenza exercise Oct. 27-30 that will include a mass flu immunization at Heiser Hall for active duty military on Oct. 28, a public awareness campaign and a simulated pandemic influenza outbreak exercise conducted internally at FAHC's emergency operations center and within the Southeast region.

    "There is an increasing fear of a pandemic influenza outbreak on a large scale," said Dan Morgan, FAHC's chief of operations and project officer for the Pandemic Influenza Exercise at the center.

    "The outbreak of a deadly flu virus is something of major concern to most countries, and certainly to the U.S."

    There have been three pandemic flu outbreaks in the last 100 years - the Spanish Flu of 1918-19 that killed 50 million worldwide and 675,000 people in the U.S.; the Asian Flu of 1957-58 that killed 1 to 2 million worldwide and 70,000 in the U.S.; and the Hong Kong Flu of 1968-69 that killed 700,000 worldwide and 34,000 in the U.S.

    "Originally, we began planning for the outbreak of a large flu problem," Morgan said. "But, in China, there is a concern that people dealing with livestock - specifically poultry - will cause an avian flu outbreak that will eventually be transmitted from human being to human being. The H5N1 virus now can transmit from animal to human through direct contact with poultry feces. But if it changes to where it can transmit from human to human we will have an influenza outbreak of the likes that we have not seen in U.S. history."

    Though deaths related to H5N1 have been limited to direct contact with infected poultry, flu strains are constantly changing and there is a likelihood that the H5N1 strain will eventually evolve so it can transmit from human to human. H5N1 represents the deadliest flu strain currently, but other flu strains can also pose a threat to the world population if they spread quickly.

    "With any flu virus that can move from human to human, say you have someone infected with the flu virus that gets on a plane in China with 300 people," Morgan said. "The air circulated in that plane will pick up the virus and everyone in the plane will breathe that air. The virus potentially infects everyone on that plane.

    "Some people will naturally be immune. But others will travel on to Denver, Chicago, Europe, and they are all now carrying the virus. You could have a worldwide explosion of that virus in a few days or a few weeks."

    During the past several weeks, FAHC has been participating in regional video teleconferences to discuss how to limit the outbreak of the flu and how to mitigate an outbreak once it has occurred. Besides Morgan, center employees participating in this year's flu prevention planning include health care providers K.C. Kelly and Tamiriz Centeno, and center logistics administrator Cherie Miller.

    "It is estimated that an influenza outbreak could degrade our work force by 30 to 40 percent," Morgan said. "That is not just at Fox or Redstone Arsenal. That could be throughout the community and the nation. If that happens, employees won't be able to go to work. It could affect our transportation system, our schools, our stores and our businesses. It could have a significant impact not only on our health but also on our economy."

    Though there is a threat each flu season that a pandemic flu outbreak will occur, the existence of the H5N1 virus makes that threat an even greater possibility. H5N1 is particularly threatening because most humans are not immune to it and there is currently no vaccine to prevent it.

    Yet, Fox officials say that getting a flu vaccine which protects against the three major flu strains can help curb the effects of the H5N1 if it is contracted.

    "The more people who are vaccinated the more we develop a herd immunity,"
    Miller said. "We want to get as many people vaccinated as possible so that we can lessen the effects of any type of flu virus on our Arsenal population."

    Miller has been appointed the center's public health emergency officer and Col. Kevin Michaels of Fox has been appointed the installation medical emergency officer. They will interface with the Garrison if there is a pandemic flu outbreak on the Arsenal.

    During the mass flu virus immunization for active duty on Oct. 28, Fox health care providers will wear personal protective equipment - including a mask and gown -- as part of the pandemic influenza exercise.

    "This will be a practice for us to prepare us for a real event," Miller said. "You don't want the medical people who care for you to also get sick."

    After the event, Fox will review lessons learned and ways to improve the process.

    "Our goal is to identify and refine our pandemic influenza planning," Morgan said. "With more experience, we can identify our shortcomings and rewrite the medical part of the Garrison's pandemic influenza plan."

    It is estimated that Redstone Arsenal will provide 7,000 vaccinations to the Arsenal community this year. Flu vaccination exercises will be conducted for National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, essential personnel, military family members, retirees and DoD civilians in early November as vaccine becomes available. The specific dates will be announced in upcoming issues of the Rocket.

    "Each year, the CDC determines which three strains of flu vaccine are going to be combined in the flu vaccine mist or shot," Miller said. "There are thousands of flu strains. But only three are in the vaccination."

    Though limited to three strains, the vaccine can help ward off the effects of other flu strains.

    "Even if you get a flu strain not included in the vaccination, you won't get as sick as you would if you didn't have the vaccination," Centeno said.

    There are other ways people can lessen the chances of contracting a flu virus, Kelly said.

    "You need to wash your hands and limit your access to people with the flu," she said. "If you are sick, stay home and away from others. When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve."

    Wearing a disposable mask is also an option when caring for someone who is sick.

    For more information about pandemic flu, visit the following websites: U.S. Government Pandemic Flu Website,; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Avian Influenza,; World Health Organization-Avian Influenza,; Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy-Latest News,; and Department of Defense Pandemic Flu Watchboard,