Swine flu at Fort Dix

16 March 2009

swineThe death of a dozen pigs from swine influenza last week in the Philippines reminded me of an incident at Fort Dix, NJ in 1976. The infection of humans with a strain of swine influenza lead to a nationwide immunization campaign to curb a pandemic that never occurred.

An explosive outbreak of febrile respiratory disease raced through the 19,000 personnel at Fort Dix in January 1976. Virological laboratory studies revealed the presence of a new swine influenza strain which was named A/New Jersey/76 (Hsw1N1). The virus infected 230 soldiers and caused severe respiratory disease in 13, including one death.

At the time it was believed that a swine virus had caused the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. Therefore scientists were concerned that the virus had returned to Fort Dix and would soon cause another catastrophic outbreak. Dr. Edwin Kilbourne, a noted influenza researcher, and others convinced the US Public Health Service to contract for the production of 150 million doses of vaccine. In March of 1976 President Gerald Ford announced a program to inoculate every man, woman and child in the United States against swine flu. Immunizations began in October, but only 45 million doses had been distributed when the program was halted in December. By then it was clear that A/New Jersey/76 was going nowhere. An unfortunate consequence was that many individuals developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disease involving muscle weakness, paralysis, and sometimes death.

Why didn’t A/New Jersey/76 spread to the general population? One factor was the limited contact between basic trainees and others who more frequently travel outside the facility. Older personnel may have been immune, because military influenza vaccine formulations from 1955 through 1969 contained a swine influenza component. Competition with concurrent circulating influenza virus strain, A/Victoria, might have  limited the impact of A/New Jersey virus which is believed to transmit poorly among humans.

In retrospect, the swine flu program had many flaws. The vaccine should have been stockpiled until it was clear that an epidemic was taking place. Today we realize that the 1918 influenza virus is derived from an avian strain, not a swine strain – had this information been available in 1976, the immunization campaign would not have taken place. Presumably these and many other errors will not be repeated when the time comes to immunize against the next pandemic strain.

To this day the origin of A/New Jersey/76 virus is an enigma. One theory is that a swine virus was brought to Fort Dix early in 1976 as recruits returned after the holidays. However, none of the personnel who were interviewed admitted to having contact with pigs. The virus seems to have circulated at Fort Dix for about a month, then disappeared.

  • Michael_Day

    Interesting (given the polio-heavy postings last week) that the Wikipedia entry linked to above describing Guillain-Barre syndrome includes a reference to a paper that questions whether FDR's paralysis was actually caused by Guillain-Barre and not paralytic poliomyelitis. (I had not heard this suggested before).

  • http://www.virology.ws profvrr

    Completely fortuitous! I am purposely staying away from polio this
    week. As for FDR and whether he had polio or Guillain-Barré, we'll
    never know the answer – but it would certainly be amazing if he didn't
    actually have the disease he helped conquer!

  • http://www.bostonmaattorneys.com Jhonez

    Interesting !
    Thanks for updating on FDR ……………….. : )

  • Danne

    Now there is a “new” swine flu outbreak. So far 7 people have been affected in the US. There is another
    more dangerous strain in Mexico and may have crossed into the US. In June 07 there was research into
    new bio-weapons. In 1918 there was a flu pandemic that killed tens of millions. Could we be looking
    at a “Captain Tripp”?

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  • daniel

    Look you`ve got your facts wrong ,, I was at Fort Dix and they were forceing all recruits starting in the month of Oct 75 to take an expermintal vaccine for Swine Flu ,, and there was one death in Oct – Nov 75 which they claimed to be because of the flu ,, the guy died of a massive brain hemorrhage ,, i was there ,, i know what killed him and its wasnt the swine flu ,,

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  • http://flu-swine.blogspot.com/ bpdisenios

    224 deaths and count..
    pandemic?

  • bibossa

    This website http://www.swine-flu-tracker.com/ shows you in real time how quickly swine flu is spreading.

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  • http://swineflumasks.co.cc/ Swine Flu Mask

    Scary, hope the virus will not infect the world!

  • BOB :D

    omg Im at school and Im not supposed to be on this!!!!!! WAZ UP?

  • http://www.n95maskpigflu.com/ Buy Swine Flu Masks

    There are just many viruses that are mutating & coming out every 2 years or so – sars, bird flu, etc… maybe i should be vegetarian …?

  • April Wegman

    I am a mother of a soldier who is currently at fort dix.
    They have a large outbreak of Swine Flu there now.
    Last night he told me that there were at least 62 in quarentine and that
    the barricks was locked down because thats where it was and has been
    sinch MARCH 2009!!!
    I see nothing of this in the news. My question that I would like answered is this:
    Why did the army send my son to fort dix to train for him to be deployed in August
    if they knew that there was swine flu there?
    Could they not have sent them to a different fort?

    April Wegman (304) 439-4776

  • April Wegman

    I am a mother of a soldier who is currently at fort dix.
    They have a large outbreak of Swine Flu there now.
    Last night he told me that there were at least 62 in quarentine and that
    the barricks was locked down because thats where it was and has been
    sinch MARCH 2009!!!
    I see nothing of this in the news. My question that I would like answered is this:
    Why did the army send my son to fort dix to train for him to be deployed in August
    if they knew that there was swine flu there?
    Could they not have sent them to a different fort?

    April Wegman (304) 439-4776

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