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Area military bases on lookout for signs of swine flu

Though there have been no confirmed -- or even suspected -- cases of swine flu at either Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort or Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, base officials say they aren't taking chances with the virus.

Following confirmed infections of two Marines and a sailor last week at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., and four probable cases of the H1N1 virus reported this week at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., local military officials say there is a heightened awareness of the illnesses' symptoms.

"A lot of what we're doing now in regards to H1N1 is what we've been doing all along," said Master Sgt. Mark Oliva, Parris Island spokesman. "The recruits are pre-screened at (military entrance processing) stations across the country before they come down where doctors look at all of them, and if a kid is running a fever, he's not going to come down. That's the normal process, though. If a kid has an in-grown toenail, he's not going to come down.

"In addition to that screening, (Naval Hospital Beaufort) has stepped up and is also screening for N1H1 indicators."

Given the close quarters recruits live in during their 13-week stay at Parris Island, the depot has taken extra precautions to prevent the spread of any infectious illness in the squad bays, according to Oliva.

"We're taking the same steps everyone is taking to mitigate the causes of this type of illness," he said. "We want to make sure the bunks have enough space between them. ... We've encouraged hand-washing and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. A lot of these steps were already in place, but when you're dealing with an illness like this and you have recruits sharing so much communal space, you have to be a little more vigilant."

Sgt. Lukas Atwell, air station spokesman, said civilian and active-duty personnel at MCAS Beaufort are "taking the same precautions they'd take otherwise," but are on the lookout for anyone suffering from symptoms.

Officials at Naval Hospital Beaufort could not be reached for comment.

The Navy canceled the deployment of a ship Wednesday and ordered its entire crew to be treated with anti-viral drugs after a crew member's illness was confirmed as swine flu.

Navy spokesman Lt. Sean Robertson said there also are about 50 suspected cases of the virus among crew members on board the USS Dubuque, an amphibious transport vessel based in San Diego.

The ship was scheduled to leave June 1 on a humanitarian mission to the South Pacific.

In the face of a possible avian flu pandemic in May 2007, the Corps developed a Disease Containment Response Plan that instructs base commanding officers on how to handle an outbreak of various strains of influenza.

Maj. David Nevers, Marine Corps spokesman at Headquarters Marine Corps in Virginia, said the Corps has been keeping close tabs on possible infections across their installations as part of that plan.

"Local commands are tracking cases aboard their installations and among their personnel," he said. "We have seen very aggressive efforts by our local commands to isolate and treat any suspected cases and to contain the potential for further transmission of the virus. Since the threat surfaced, commands have appropriately balanced their interest in keeping their communities informed with their desire to avoid fostering undue anxiety."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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