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Cluster of Soldier Flu-like Deaths in North Carolina

Recombinomics Commentary
February 20, 2005

>> The mysterious death of a third soldier with North Carolina ties is raising questions. All three died from flu-like symptoms after returning from overseas deployments, according to a report by affiliate station WRAL.

Sgt. Clay Garton was a flight medic at Fort Bragg. He spent 16 months in Iraq and returned home in July. Then, he got sick.

His family said he had symptoms like the flu. He fought it for three weeks, but his fever soared to 106 degrees. The day after Christmas, he died.

"They came out in five minutes and said, 'He's gone,'" said Duane Garton, Clay's father.

According to a preliminary autopsy report, Garton's liver and spleen were swollen. His wife said doctors told her he died from infection.

It is the third recent example of soldiers dying after exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Capt. Gilbert Munoz was a special forces soldier at Fort Bragg who was deployed to the Middle East. After he got back, he died from a bacterial infection.

Sgt. Christopher Rogers was a reservist from Raleigh. He went to Afghanistan. After he came home, his temperature hit 109 degrees. <<

The three cases described above are linked more closely by time of death than overseas deployments, which ended months ago.  Influenza A can lead to secondary infections that lead to death.  A new strain of influenza, California/7/2004(H3N2) has spread across the country.  It was originally isolated in Santa Clara, CA, but in the last two reporting periods, all H3N2 isolates were the California strain.  Prior to the first week of 2005, all H3N2 isolates for this season were Fujian.  Most of the samples came from the east coast of the US.

The rapid spread of the virus across the United States demonstrates its virulence,  There have been a number of recent reports of high school and college student deaths from meningitis, another secondary infection of influenza.  This month there were three student deaths in Eastern PA.  All three were sudden and shocked the community.

The timing of the servicemen's deaths coincides with the spread of the California strain of H3N2 to the east coast.  The flu virus is a likely cause of their mysterious illnesses.

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