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USS Fort McHenry stuck at sea after virus outbreak among sailors, Marines

The amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) makes a wide turn prior to conducting helicopter operations off the coast of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. (Tech. Sgt. Scott Reed/U.S. Air Force)
March 14, 2019

Sailors and Marines have been stuck out at sea in quarantine since this past December due to a viral outbreak, according to a new report.

Military officials hadn’t publicly spoken about the incident – which has trapped 25 sailors and Marines on the USS Fort McHenry at sea in the Persian Gulf – until CNN contacted them for a report this week.

Sailors and Marines aboard USS Fort McHenry have contracted parotitis, a viral infection with symptoms mirroring that of mumps. The outbreak started in December 2018, and the most recent case was reported Saturday.

“None of the cases are life-threatening and all have either already made or are expected to make a full recovery,” the Fifth Fleet told CNN.

The Fifth Fleet noted that all 703 personnel have been vaccinated with measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) boosters.

The patients who first showed symptoms during Dec. 22 to 25 were quarantined and treated in the onboard medical facilities while the rest of the ship was disinfected. The initial patients have recovered and resumed duty.

Viral parotitis involves the swelling of the parotitis salivary glands and can be caused by “paramyxovirus (mumps), Epstein-Barr virus, coxsackievirus, and influenza A and parainfluenza viruses,” according to research from the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The USS Fort McHenry’s last port call was in January when it stopped in Romania while in the Black Sea. It has since traveled to the Persian Gulf where it is awaiting medical clearance to make another port call.

A military official told CNN that it is typical procedure during illness outbreaks to pause port calls until a 30-day period has passed without any new patients.

A specialty medical team is reportedly expected to deploy within the next few days to travel to the USS Fort McHenry for a comprehensive medical assessment.

The USS Fort McHenry is an amphibious warship, which carries Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and was undergoing scheduled training.

Although rare, illness outbreaks aboard U.S. Navy ships have occurred in the past, though they seem to be at a decreasing frequency, likely due to the innovation in vaccines.

The USS Peleliu and USS Constellation both suffered outbreaks of gastroenteritis after port calls in Southeast Asia in 1999, although researchers found both cases were different and neither included a common or single point of contamination, according to Military Medicine research.

The USS Arkansas suffered an outbreak of influenza A in 1996, “despite 95% of the crew’s having been appropriately vaccinated,” according to Center for Disease Control (CDC) research. Of the 548 crew members, 232 were affected by the virus.

“Vaccines are the most effective public health tools for preventing illness and death,” according to a Navy Public Health Center release. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared vaccinations to be one of the 10 great public health achievements of the twentieth century.”