Friday, April 24, 2009

Swine Flu outbreak at Ft. Dix

An explosive outbreak of febrile respiratory disease raced through the 19,000 personnel at Fort Dix in January 1976. Virological laboratory studies revealed the presence of a new swine influenza strain which was named A/New Jersey/76 (Hsw1N1). The virus infected 230 soldiers and caused severe respiratory disease in 13, including one death.

At the time it was believed that a swine virus had caused the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. Therefore scientists were concerned that the virus had returned to Fort Dix and would soon cause another catastrophic outbreak. Dr. Edwin Kilbourne, a noted influenza researcher, and others convinced the US Public Health Service to contract for the production of 150 million doses of vaccine. In March of 1976 President Gerald Ford announced a program to inoculate every man, woman and child in the United States against swine flu. Immunizations began in October, but only 45 million doses had been distributed when the program was halted in December. By then it was clear that A/New Jersey/76 was going nowhere. An unfortunate consequence was that many individuals developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disease involving muscle weakness, paralysis, and sometimes death.

I remember lining up for that vaccine in 1976. I had no after effects but the pandemic that was to occur just stayed at Ft. Dix. And what a mess with the vaccine that killed about 30 people with Guillain-Barre syndrome. Let us hope this one is isolated in Mexico and San Diego.

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