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Military: AIDS a ‘Significant Threat’ to Armed Services

August 9, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The nation’s armed services view AIDS as a significant threat that could affect wartime blood supplies, military eligibility and routine immunizations of service personnel, a special medical advisory panel was told Friday.

Moreover, the Army now expects up to 1,000 soldiers or dependents to be identified over the next year as potential carriers or actual victims of the disease, said Dr. Edmund C. Tramont, an Army colonel and chief of microbiology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

It is costing the Army up to $500,000 per person to provide complete care to those who actually contract AIDS, meaning continued spread of the disease ″has the potential to bankrupt the system,″ Tramont said.

Over the past 21/2 years, the Army has diagnosed 76 cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome among soldiers and family members. The Air Force and Navy have disclosed diagnosis of another 40 or so cases.

Tramont appeared Friday during a hearing at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, conducted by a disease control subcommittee of the Armed Forces Epiodemiological Board. Top Pentagon health officials last June asked the board to study ways of responding to the threat posed by the often fatal disease.

The full epidemiological board is expected to meet in September to discuss how to pursue its investigation of AIDs, which renders the body’s immune system incapable of resisting disease.

The Pentagon recently followed the lead of civilian blood agencies in requiring the use of a new test to screen blood donated by servicemen. The test, however, merely detects the presence of an antibody associated with the disease. A positive test result indicates a donor has been exposed to the disease and his blood should not be used for transfusions - not that he has AIDS or will contract it.

Even that information, however, raises troublesome issues, including whether such blood tests should be extended to all new recruits and servicemen undergoing routine physicals, Tramont said.

He said a positive test might justify a decision not to immunize a recruit against such diseases as smallpox, measles and polio - something that is now done routinely - because if the recruit was actually suffering from AIDS, the immunizations could induce the very disease they were designed to prevent and force consideration of denying entry into service.

″The chief of staff needs confidence that the people he’s training can complete a tour,″ Tramont said. ″We don’t let people with diabetes in at any stage.″

A similar concern would arise in terms of dispatching individuals who have tested positive to areas of the world where malaria is common. Contracting that disease could prove fatal for someone who really does suffer from AIDS, he said.

During wartime, Tramont continued, the entire blood supply system would be under tremendous strain with everyone in uniform a potential donor, once again raising the question of whether all servicemen should be screened.

But Jeff Levi of the National Gay Task Force told the panel that widespread screening could be misused to discharge people thought to be homosexuals.

Service representatives said positive test results are available only to military physicians and their patients. Army Col. Manmohan Ranadive, a preventive medicine officer, said the only exception to that policy has involved people in particularly sensitive jobs - for example, those handling chemical or nuclear weapons.

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