Artillery: October 24, 2004


Due to poor judgment by U.S. Department of Defense officials, some ten percent of recruits in training are being infected by adenovirus, and several dozen have died from it in the last eight years. The adenovirus is quite common, and most people get it at least once before age ten. But in healthy people, you hardly notice it. However, in military recruit training bases, you have lots of young people living in crowded, and stressful, conditions. Mass outbreaks of adenovirus have long been common under these conditions, and has interrupted the training of many for over a century. There were some deaths as well, although this was rare, and difficult to precisely identify. The biggest medical problem was just treating thousands of recruits with flu like symptoms. In the late 1960s, a vaccine for adenovirus, in the form of two pills, was developed. Recruits began taking the pills in 1971, and the adenovirus pretty much disappeared from military bases. In 1987, the air force decided that adenovirus had been eliminated. Bad decision. The air force stopped giving out the vaccine, and nothing bad happened. The adenovirus was apparently gone, but it wasnt. Not completely. Like most viruses that prey on humans, you have to wipe it out completely (as was done with smallpox), otherwise surviving human populations with the virus will allow it to spread again when conditions permit. 

In 1996, with the adenovirus still not showing up at the air force training centers, the Department of Defense decided to stop buying the vaccine. Another Cold War peace dividend. The savings would be not quite a million dollars a year. A year later, adenovirus began to show up in army bases. Army recruit training is a lot more stressful than the air force version, so the virus could now spread again. Year, by year, the adenovirus has gotten worse. Currently, some bases have ten percent of their recruits down with it, and up to a dozen a year are dying from it. Its not always possible to nail down the cause of death when the victim has flu like symptoms. Sometimes its more than one virus that brings someone down. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense is spending $35 million to get a new adenovirus vaccine production facility operational. But it looks like quantities of the vaccine wont be showing up until 2007, or later, and will cost quite a bit more than the older vaccine. 


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