KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Canada’s military says it will be prepared if swine flu strikes soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
Canadian military personnel have put in place testing procedures at the hospital inside the base at Kandahar Airfield.
“Part of our plan is to screen all incoming passengers into the area of responsibility here in Kandahar, so all of the personnel that we have are screened before they arrive,” said Lt.-Col. Ron Wojtyk, a Canadian military surgeon and the head physician at the base’s NATO hospital.
He said every new arrival is required to fill out a brief questionnaire.
The newcomers are asked if they have a cold, a fever or any muscle aches or pains. They are also asked if they have been to Mexico and if they have come into contact with anyone who has had an influenza-like illness.
“If they say ‘Yes’ to any of those then they have to see a medical person,” Wojtyk said.
In the next few months, 21,000 American soldiers will be deployed in the Kandahar area where they will join more than 1,000 Canadian military personnel.
Around 70,000 foreign soldiers are serving across Afghanistan.
There have been no reported cases of swine flu in the country, which already faces a litany of public health problems.
The only known pig in Afghanistan, a predominantly Muslim country, was quarantined recently at a zoo in Kabul.
“From what I’ve seen, we’re well prepared,” said Wojtyk.
If a soldier shows symptoms of influenza, they will be given a test for a general flu.
“If the (general) test is positive, we treat it as if the person is suffering from swine flu, as a preventive measure, to keep the infection from spreading,” said Wojtyk, adding that samples will be shipped to labs outside of Kandahar for analysis.
He also said the hospital has an adequate supply of medication to treat the flu if there is an outbreak.
Canadian military lawyer John McKee said the situation could become complicated because there are no laws outlining the responsibilities of NATO armies in the case of a pandemic.
“We’ve got a lot of new troops coming in now from various nations and what if some bring it?” McKee said.
“We have to look at what the laws are, we have to look at the laws in different nations, we have to look at … security concerns.
“We think we’ve got the right answer and it works, but then one of the variables changes, and this is the interesting part of the game.”