By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Services
Defense Department officials are monitoring the H1N1 flu outbreak closely, with their primary focus on protecting the military population, a senior Pentagon official said Monday.
As officials with the Department of Health and Human Services lead the U.S. effort, the military is posturing itself to respond if required, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
"We certainly have a number of contingency plans for dealing with health incidences like this, because our primary goal is preservation of the fighting force," he said. "So we obviously have plans and take measures to ensure that we can preserve the fighting strength of the military in the event that there should be a greater crisis with respect to a health situation like this."
Two prescription anti-viral drugs, Relenza and Tamiflu, already are standard stock at U.S. military treatment facilities, and larger quantities are stockpiled at several sites in the U.S. and overseas, Mr. Whitman said.
President Barack Obama told the National Academy of Sciences the emerging incidence of H1N1 flu in the U.S. "is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert, but it's not a cause for alarm."
Representatives at the Centers for Disease Control have confirmed 40 cases of H1N1 flu virus infection in the U.S. in California, Kansas, Ohio and Texas as well as New York City. None have involved members of the military or their families.
Greater cases of infections have been reported internationally, particularly in Mexico.
Obama said HHS officials have declared a public health emergency only "as a precautionary tool to ensure that we have the resources we need at our disposal to respond quickly and effectively." Officials with HHS, the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security will provide the American people regular updates about steps being taken and precautions that may be required, he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry distributed CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of H1N1 flu to the federal work force. Mr. Berry also distributed guidance for federal agencies to protect their work forces and the public and to ensure continuity of operations in the event that they must institute their already-prepared pandemic influenza preparedness plans.
CDC specialists recommend the following actions people can take to stay healthy:
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
CDC experts also recommend avoiding close contact with sick people, particularly if they are coughing or sneezing, and to stay home if you're sick to avoid infecting others.