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Autopsy confirms soldier died of swine flu

A Fort Jackson soldier who died Sept. 10 is the first Army member to die from complications caused by the H1N1 virus, commonly called swine flu.

Autopsy results released late Wednesday showed Spec. Christopher Hogg, 23, of Deltona, Fla., died from pneumonia caused by the H1N1 influenza, said Brig. Gen. Brad May, Fort Jackson's commanding general. Hogg did not have any underlying medical conditions that would have exacerbated the flu's effects, he said.

"This is the one case where there is something different there," May said. "Why didn't he recover? I don't know."

Hogg is possibly the first member of the U.S. armed forces to die from the H1N1 virus. On Saturday, the Associated Press reported no H1N1 deaths had been recorded in the military.

Gary Tallman, an Army spokesman, said Hogg was the first flu-related death in the Army, but he could not confirm it was the first among all branches of the military.

The flu season has started earlier than usual at Fort Jackson, said Col. Nancy Hughes, commander of Moncrief Army Community Hospital. On Wednesday evening, 51 soldiers were being treated for flulike symptoms, she said. None was hospitalized, but they were resting in an isolated area known as "sick in quarters."

While those soldiers don't have confirmed H1N1 cases, the Centers for Disease Control has said the vast majority of the flu now active is that strain.

In South Carolina, there have been 76 hospitalizations with lab-confirmed cases of the flu since Aug. 30, according to DHEC. In September, two children died from flu complications, bringing the state's death total to six.

Fort Jackson officials have taken the flu seriously. Dispensers of hand sanitizer are hanging on walls across the post, and every soldier has been issued a bottle of Purel. For now, officers greeting visitors will not shake hands, offering a hearty fist bump instead.

Fort Jackson commanders, medical staff and other key officials put together a plan for flu when it first appeared in the spring. Soldiers in barracks sleep head to toe to minimize exposure to germs. And barracks and other common areas get regular scrubbings with bleach.

Fort Jackson expects to get its first order of H1N1 vaccine this month, Hughes said. Already, soldiers entering basic training are vaccinated against the seasonal flu, she said.

Fort Jackson is the Army's largest training base, where more than 10,000 soldiers are stationed at any given time. A flu pandemic could compromise the Army's ability to fight two wars if the post does not continue to churn out soldiers, May said.

"We run the risk of not being able to produce the number of people we're feeding into the Army," he said.

Plus, May said he felt a "sacred" responsibility for keeping soldiers healthy.

After receiving the autopsy results, May and the post's top two medical staff members called the Hogg family to explain the results.

Hogg reported to sick call Sept. 1 with a fever and was treated at Moncrief. On Sept. 3, he was transferred to Palmetto Health Richland after his symptoms worsened. Moncrief does not have an intensive care unit.

Hogg's family was by his side when he passed away Sept. 10, May said.

After the death, May hosted the family at Fort Jackson so they could see the training their son had undergone and to attend a memorial service.

Hogg was scheduled to graduate Oct. 15.

"That this young man volunteered to serve his country during a time of war was noteworthy," May said. "We send our most sincere condolences to the family."

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