Since April 1st the US Navy has reported 505 cases of H1N1 (Swine Flu) in active duty servicemen/women [pdf]. For perspective, the Army, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard has had 502, 323, 239, and 8 cases respectively. However, more than 20% (110) of the Navy’s cases occurred on the USS Bonhomme Richard, currently at sea. Even more startling, 61 of the Bonhomme Richard’s cases happened within the last eleven days. Simply put, 12% of the Navy’s total H1N1 cases are on a single ship, on deployment, and within the last two weeks.

The Navy has so far been able to keep the USS Bonhomme Richard’s outbreak out of the news. The only mention of the outbreak is in the DoD’s July 14, 2009 Global Surveillance Summary for H1N1 [pdf] (pictured), read only by military health staff and nosy Ph.D. candidates.


While H1N1 is no more dangerous than the common flu, outbreaks of the virus have affected Naval operations in the past. After the USS Dubuque experienced at outbreak of around 20 cases of H1N1, it was scrapped as the assigned vessel for Pacific Partnership 2009, a humanitarian civic assistance mission to Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga. Mission planners scrambled and accepted an offer by the Sealift Command and the Seventh Fleet to use the USNS Richard E. Byrd. The change in vessels forced the mission to be reduced to half of the original plan. On the vessel switch, Commodore Andrew Cully said:

“Originally, we were going to have roughly 180 medical folks and several engineers, a lot more than what we’ve had. And then now we had to down-scope somewhat, and [on the USNS Richard E. Byrd] I’m carrying, roughly, 50 medical professionals, 40 engineers, and then we’ll round it out with another 20 between my core staff and partner nations and NGOs.”

Furthermore, active outbreaks can spread quickly. This week, an H1N1 outbreak amongst freshman cadets at the Air Force Academy spread to sixty-seven students within ten days of the case. The increased risk of spreading the disease in the cramped conditions of naval vessels is obvious. So, if in the next few weeks you hear reports of the USS Bonhomme Richard changing its mission due to a H1N1 outbreak: 1) do not be surprised, and 2) remember you heard it on the USNI blog first.

Posted by Christopher Albon in Navy

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  • sid
  • sid
  • sid

    And just 13 years ago, the USS Arkansas was rendered mission ineffective by the flu…

    The USS Arkansas is a nuclear-powered, guided missile cruiser with a complement of >500 men. It was in its home port of Bremerton, Washington, in January 1996. On February 1, this cruiser and her sister ship, the USS California (crew >550 men), departed for a 3-week training exercise in the waters off southern California. Up to departure date, the primary contact the two crews had was a shared dining facility. On February 5, the USS Arkansas contacted the Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit in San Diego, California (NEPMU-5), to report the onset of an acute febrile respiratory disease in many crew members. Subsequently, high rates of an incapacitating illness forced the ship to dock in San Diego, where it remained for 2 days.

  • sid

    Link about the Arkansas that “should” work…

  • sid

    (last one)

    And the tale of the Pittsburgh is a cautionary one

    By the next day, the 11th, there were 418 cases of influenza in the flagship, so that her activities for any duty were becoming handicapped. The seriousness of the situation was cabled to the Department with the suggestion that the ship bringing the Ambassador continue on its way and remain for the 15th of November, for which Brazilian National Day ships from Uruguay, Argentina and Chile would be there. That would make it incumbent that our representation be adequate for the occasion. On the 14th of October 644 cases had been admitted to the sick list, with about 350 more light ones not listed. One man died the day before. On the 15th three had died, the Commanding Officer, his heads of department and two members of my staff were sick, while the disease raged unabated in Rio where conditions defied description.

  • Grampa Bluewater

    In Japan the custom is for persons with a respiratory ailment to wear a surgical mask and white gloves to shortstop contagion.
    While it looks a little odd to those new to the land of the rising sun, it makes very good sense. Gloves are often worn by those who handle public objects (door handles, railings, luggage)as well.

    Perhaps the USN might consider adopting it.

    I worked with a MM Bosun who had grab rails, door knobs, dogs and etc in the house (deck house/offices public heads and berthing) wiped down with Lysol every morning. It really cut down on the second week at sea sniffles.

  • Bill

    Seems like a decent precaution for anyone/anywhere. The Japs set us all a good example with their use of face masks on public transport. I recall a USN medical corps officer who did this every day when he was serving aboard the pre-WW2 battleship USS NEW YORK in the late 1930s. He swore it helped keep the crew healthy and gave him an opportunity to chart with the skipper every morning.. My Father, God Bless Him.

  • It’s.



    We need to get over it. If it was just the plain flu would this even have been a headline? No.

  • david kerr

    If Israel is planning to take out the Iranian nuclear sites, a good time would be in the weeks after flu spreads explosively after pilgrims return from Mecca.

  • Tim

    I heard on the Drew Raines Radio show September 17th that a Navy ship, upon getting underway from San Diego in early August, received Swine Flu Shots. Immediately 20 or so personnel became deathly sick. The source on the ship himself the next day became very sick (104 temp for 5 days). The Commanding Officer and the Master Chief on the ship died at sea and the CO was replaced. This is after the crew received Swine Flu Shots!! Why is this not getting out to the public? What does the vaccine makers have in store for humanity? It is obviously DEATH and destruction. The vaccine has Squalene, which will kill you or, if you are lucky, destroy your ability to fight off disease for the rest of your life.
    The ship pulled into port in San Diego on September 18th. Does anyone have any intel on this?

  • Tim you are spreading a bogus story. Nobody in Navy has been given that Vaccine yet. Any shots given have been for seasonal flu. That is a bogus story.