HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Aside from the constant threat of enemy contact and roadside bombs, Marines throughout Afghanistan are taking an offensive posture against another potentially deadly enemy – the flu.
Nearly 400 Marines and sailors with Regimental Combat Team 7 at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, and many other Marines throughout southern Afghanistan have received the H1N1 vaccination in an effort to keep Marines on the frontlines healthy and in the fight.
“In Vietnam, a lot of people died from malaria. That could have been prevented. We don’t want people to ask, ‘what did the people die in Afghanistan from,’ and it be the flu,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Christian R. Johnroe, a corpsman with Preventive Medicine, Combat Logistics Regiment 2. “We are trying to keep people safe from what we can control. We want every Marine in this fight so we can win this war.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 22 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with the H1N1 flu virus from April through Oct. 17, resulting in approximately 98,000 hospitalizations. An estimated 3,900 have died from the H1N1 flu.
“This is relatively low when you consider that in the United States alone, there are approximately 200,000 people hospitalized, with 36,000 deaths due to seasonal flu annually,” said Navy Lt. Connie R. Johnson, the officer in charge of Preventive Medicine, CLR-2. “The difference between numbers does not negate the importance of the H1N1 vaccine, however, as both seasonal and H1N1 flu virus can take a Marine out of the fight, and both vaccinations are a force multiplier.”
No chances are being taken on the Marines’ health in Afghanistan.
“We are trying to prevent people from being sick,” said Johnroe. “We take precautions, we don’t take chances.”
The corpsmen have received extensive training and education on the H1N1 virus and administering the vaccination.
“If the shot is administered in the tricep, and not the deltoid, it could not have the same effect, and the Marines health could be compromised,” Johnroe said. “The corpsmen here have been administrating it 100-percent correctly.”
Small-unit leaders throughout Afghanistan have ensured their Marines and sailors receive the vaccine, and stressed the importance of remaining healthy, as they continue to conduct counterinsurgency operations in partnership with the Afghan national security forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
“From experiencing the flu before, I believe it’s pertinent for people to get the vaccine,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class William T. Morell, a corpsman with Regimental Combat Team 7. “It’s vital to make sure our Marines and sailors are kept in the fight so that they can win those hearts and minds.”
The danger in H1N1 is the body’s lack of immunity to the virus, explained Seaman Michael J. Arroyo, a corpsman for RCT-7.
“That’s why the vaccine is important. It’s giving the body immunity,” said Arroyo.
The H1N1 vaccine eliminates the specific threat of swine flu, but other flu viruses remain a possible threat. Arroyo advises Marines to get the seasonal flu shot as well and to practice proper hygiene.
“We tell our Marines to wash their hands before meals, and cover their mouths when coughing,” said Arroyo. “Keeping your body strong with daily exercise will help too.”