Virus closes US army bases in Germany
20 February 2004
MARBURG - A mysterious viral infection has forced military authorities
in Germany to close four bases, ordering nearly 4,000 personnel and
their dependents to stay home, authorities said Friday.
The bases Schwalmstadt, Schwarzenborn, Stadtallendorf and Neustadt will
be closed for three weeks while the premises are disinfected.
"This is the worst single such infectious situation we've ever had," a
Defence Ministry spokesman said Friday.
The viral epidemic began in Schwalmstadt in the central German state of
Hesse, when 150 of the 800 personnel stationed there complained of
inflamed and itching eyes.
The Bundeswehr closed that base last week. Just four days later, the
same symptoms cropped up at nearby Neustadt, where all 800 service
personnel were told to go home until further notice.
With some 14,000 troops stationed in Hesse, German military authorities
became alarmed as two more bases were ordered closed.
"Something is being transmitted between these bases - food, laundry,
books - something that people touch with their hands and then
inadvertently transfer to their eyes," a spokesman said.
At the one base in the area that is still open, in Frankenberg, the base
commander is confident the epidemic is waning.
"We have had just a dozen reported cases of eye infection out of a base
population of 1,200," said Colonel Peter Richard, Frankenberg base
commander. "We have launched hygiene drills and cleaning campaigns aimed
at ensuring that this does not spread any further."
Bundeswehr medical officials note that infectious diseases are common at
military bases due to the close confines of 1,000 or more men and women
living and working together.
"This infection, however, is a definitely more stubborn than any we have
seen in recent years," one military doctor told Deutsche Presse-Agentur