- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

FORT JACKSON, S.C. | Soldiers in boot camp are getting something new this year besides rigorous basic training - Army-green bottles of hand sanitizer gel, part of a stepped-up effort by the military to ward off swine and seasonal flu.

Soldiers at the Army’s largest training installation and at other boot camps are also getting orders from their drill sergeants to use alcohol wipes and cough into their sleeves.

It’s all part of an effort that intensified when the new H1N1 virus spread this year to avoid repeating history. The 1918 global flu pandemic hit hard at big training camps such as Fort Jackson, where hundreds of soldiers died and thousands became ill.

Army recruits enter basic training from around the nation and the world, so medical officials say they must drill hygiene basics into each and every soldier to keep them healthy amid the stresses and strains of combat training.

“We use this over and over, every day,” said Spec. Arielle Schiltz, 20, of Detroit, showing how the small vial of hand gel she was issued fits in a shoulder pocket. “You just rub it in. After the latrine, before eating, after eating. It could be 15 to 20 times a day.”

Staff Sgt. Anthony Elmore, 37, in charge of Spec. Schiltz’s unit, said such instruction can’t be repeated enough for the estimated 50,000 soldiers who stream annually through Fort Jackson’s training units.

“We have to work and talk, work and talk,” said Sgt. Elmore of Greenwood. “We want to make sure that these soldiers know how to follow proper hygiene, so they won’t get sick.”

During the 1918 flu pandemic, Camp Jackson, as it was known at the time, had more than 60,000 soldiers in training, according to Dale Smith, historian for the military’s medical school known as the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda.

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, Mr. Smith said.

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

Besides rolling up their sleeves to get mandatory vaccinations, the instruction doled out by the military could help anyone keep healthy in a crowded, stressed work place: Keep six feet away from those coughing or sneezing; cough into your sleeve; don’t use other people’s telephones or computer keyboards, wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer.

Military guidance also includes using larger meeting rooms, using workspace cubicles in offices instead of open places - and even putting bunkmates in head-to-toe configurations when beds are stacked. Stalls with alcohol wipes and gel, masks and instructive posters line the walls of barracks, rest rooms and training areas.

While some anti-flu steps were included in health training in the past, the training and the use of the hand sanitizers were stepped up last spring to battle both the regular flu and the H1N1 virus, said Nichole Riley, public affairs officer for Moncrief Army Community Hospital at Fort Jackson. The steps appear to be working, she said.

“We’ve seen a tremendous decrease in the number of flulike illnesses coming into our urgent care center,” Ms. Riley said.

In April, the installation logged a high of 187 confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu virus, and now about only 30 cases are being dealt with, she said. Exact numbers are no longer being tallied.

“Using the hand sanitizers, the social distancing, making flu-prevention classes available - it seems to be working,” Ms. Riley said.

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