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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 dpa.




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