Pandemic Flu and the Military

The Spanish Flu pandemic killed more soldiers in World War I than died in combat. The virus spread with great speed through the camps incapacitating large numbers of troops. Some military historians believe that pandemic flu accelerated the end of the war.

Could the current pandemic affect a modern Army’s ability to function today? There is some evidence that it already is:

From The Nation (Thailand, June 26, 2009)

In the wake of the type-A(H1N1) influenza outbreak, the Royal Thai Navy has put on hold any plan to dispatch conscripts trained at its facilities to various military agencies.

There are over 4,000 conscripts in this group – and 200 have been isolated with fever. Eight have already tested positive to the influenza A(H1N1) virus and at least two conscripts are in intensive care units.

“All these conscripts have received some training and are scheduled to be sent to various agencies,” Navy CommanderinChief Adm Kamthorn Pumhiran said yesterday, “But we now have to suspend the plan to dispatch them.”

From ynet (Israel, June 29, 2009)

Some 20 troops who have been working with the Taglit youth have contracted the H1N1 virus over the past few weeks. The IDF failed to identify the source of the flu at first, and so these soldiers returned to their unit and infected their comrades, raising the number of servicemen infected with the flu to several dozens.

Some of the units infected had no choice but to declare a temporary shutdown of either training or operational activities. The Navy, for instance, had to shut down the training of one of its torpedo boats for several days, after a number of the soldiers serving on it got sick.

From Georgia Public Broadcasting (US, July 16, 2009)

The Fort Gordon army base in Augusta is reporting a total of 11 confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, there.

[snip]

The U.S. Department of Defense, meanwhile, has placed Fort Gordon on its global surveillance summary list, along with Fort Bliss and Fort Sam Houston in Texas, each with confirmed swine flu cases of more than 100. Fort Jackson, in Columbia, South Carolina, is also on the list. Officials with the U.S. Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center say the designation means the department is monitoring Fort Gordon

From the Honolulu Adviser (US, July 21, 2009):

At least 69 sailors and Marines tested positive for H1N1 swine flu within a Navy ship group now visiting Hawai’i.

The Navy has quarantined an undetermined number of crew members with flulike symptoms on the ships, which are part of the USS Boxer Amphibious Ready Group.

It is highly likely that there will be more cases of the pandemic flu in Armies around the world. We may not hear about all of them for national security reasons. Will the pandemic affect the ability of these Armies to carry out their duties? We may soon find out.

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