Army reports first death from swine flu complications; soldier fell ill in SC basic training

By Susanne M. Schafer, AP
Thursday, October 1, 2009

Army’s first swine flu death is soldier in SC

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A 23-year-old soldier from Florida who was in basic training is the Army’s first death from complications of swine flu, officials said Thursday.

The death at Fort Jackson, the Army’s largest training camp and just outside Columbia, may be the first such loss among the nation’s 1.4 million men and women in uniform.

Pentagon officials said they were trying Thursday morning to confirm details of the case. But as of late last week, Department of Defense spokesmen said no military deaths had been recorded since the virus broke out last spring.

Spc. Christopher Hogg of Deltona, Fla., died Sept. 10th from “pneumonia due to H1N1 influenza,” according to Fort Jackson commander Brig. Gen. Bradley May.

“His family had traveled to Columbia to be with him and was present when he passed away,” May said in a statement Thursday.

An autopsy was conducted the following day and results received late Wednesday, May said.

Hogg was in the fifth week of basic. He had initially tested negative for the swine flu virus, but the autopsy later detected it, another defense official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

“Regrettably, this is the first H1N1-related death of a soldier for the U.S. Army,” said Gary Tallman, a civilian spokesman for the service, the Pentagon’s largest service branch with 552,425 soldiers.

Hogg reported to sick call with a fever on Sept. 1 and was treated at the Army’s Moncrief Army Community Hospital. Two days later he was transferred to a local hospital, where he died, May said.

Fort Jackson spokeswoman Karen Soule said that as of Wednesday evening, 51 of Fort Jackson’s 13,000 soldiers had flulike symptoms. More than 50,000 soldiers every year participate in either basic or advanced training on the installation.

Military recruits are always at higher risk for illness because of the stressful training environment, close quarters and rigorous physical work, military medical officials have said.

The Army has long had programs for preventing and treating illnesses. It stepped up efforts when swine flu surfaced in the spring, May said.

That includes mandatory vaccinations, frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer, coughing into the crook of the arm instead of the hands, and keeping hands away from the eyes, nose and mouth, the one-star general said.

Among many other steps, barracks have been rearranged so bunks are placed head-to-toe to keep soldiers as separate as possible. Living quarters are scrubbed daily with bleach, and soldiers turn in blankets, pillows and mattress covers for laundering every three weeks, the general said.

“We realize no matter how thorough our preventative measures are, soldiers will get sick, some will become seriously ill, and unfortunately some may die,” the general said.

The military installation was one of many hit hard by the 1918 global flu pandemic.

During that pandemic, Camp Jackson, as it was known at the time, had more than 60,000 soldiers in training, according to Dale Smith, the historian for the military’s medical school known as the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

Exact numbers are hard to come by, but estimates are that about 25 percent of those at the installation got the flu, and of the afflicted about 18 to 20 percent died, Smith said.

Many who became ill recovered, “but it still killed a lot of people,” Smith said.

Associated Press Writer Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.

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