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50 amphib sailors have flu symptoms

May. 5, 2009 - 06:08PM   |   Last Updated: May. 5, 2009 - 06:08PM  |  
One sailor aboard the Dubuque is confirmed to have swine flu; 50 others are exhibiting "flu-like symptoms."
One sailor aboard the Dubuque is confirmed to have swine flu; 50 others are exhibiting "flu-like symptoms." (MC2 MARK A. LEONESIO / NAVY)
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A possible outbreak of the so-called swine flu aboard the San Diego-based amphibious transport dock Dubuque has caused Navy leadership to cancel the ship's planned June 1 deployment in the Pacific.

One sailor on the ship was confirmed to have the virus, also called H1N1, and 50 other crew members are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, said Cmdr. Cappy Surette, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon. It was not immediately clear if the 50 sailors have been confirmed as having a "novel virus" such as H1NI, as opposed to seasonal flu.

"Those are awaiting confirmation from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] one way or another," Surette said.

The ship is weeks away from a four-month deployment on its Pacific Partnership 2009 cruise, Surette said.

"The Navy has decided to proceed with an abundance of caution," he said, noting the "degree of uncertainty as to how long this will run its course."

A replacement ship has not been identified, but "the Navy is exploring its options to meet operational commitments," he said. "It's under discussion."

The Dubuque sailor is one of five confirmed cases of H1N1 throughout the Navy as of Tuesday afternoon. All five cases are in the San Diego area.

The sailor from Dubuque and the 50 others are being treated with five days' worth of the antiviral medicine TamiFlu, a course they began last Wednesday. The remainder of the 420-member crew has been on a 10-day preventive course of TamiFlu since May 3. Surette said the 51 sailors are confined to quarters ashore but the rest of the crew is able to report to duty aboard the ship.

Before today, the Navy had confirmed three cases: the Dubuque sailor; a hospital corpsman at Camp Pendleton, who is recovering; and a sailor at the 32nd Street Naval Station, who already has recovered, Surette said.

The two additional cases confirmed today were one at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado and one with Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 77 at Naval Air Station North Island.

"There is nobody hospitalized," Surette said.

He was not sure if more such scenarios will arise. "This is the best information we have today," he said. "We obviously continue to monitor the health of the force."

A Navy-wide message released Friday by the Navy's surgeon general offered ship-specific guidance to reduce the risks of disease spread. The guidance told commands to: remove every other seat in the mess decks; make sure sailors sleep with a "head-to-toe orientation" in berthing areas; reduce crowding in work areas; "maximize ventilation" aboard ship; and "consider restricting non-essential travel to areas with known outbreaks."

Dubuque was to deploy in a new role for the gator fleet: winning hearts and minds through what's become known as a "soft power" mission. It would have been the fourth such annual trip in the Pacific area to provide medical, veterinarian and engineering support to local populations, according to a March 3 notice announcing the mission.

The Pacific Partnership cruise for 2009 was to make stops in Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Tonga. The Norfolk-based amphib Nashville is now winding up a similar mission off the coast of western Africa called the Africa Partnership Station.

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