People practice coughing into their sleeves as a way to try to control the spread of the H1N1 swine flu virus, during a meeting for workers at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, September 3, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES HEALTH)

More than 100 new cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy got infected with swine flu at July 4 barbecue and fireworks display but quick isolation measures got it under control within two weeks, researchers reported on Tuesday.

The outbreak provided a unique opportunity to study the virus closely and Dr. Catherine Takacs Witkop and colleagues say they discovered some surprising things. Among them:

* Nearly a quarter, or 24 percent, of patients still had virus in their noses seven days after getting sick, including 19 percent who had been well for at least 24 hours

* Tamiflu, the drug used to treat influenza, did not help any of the previously healthy young men and women get better any quicker.

* Most cadets were sick for five days or longer

* Eleven percent of the cadets became infected.

In June, soon after the new H1N1 virus was declared a pandemic, 1,376 new cadets arrived for their first training at the academy, near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

A total of 134 confirmed and 33 suspected cases of new H1N1 infection were identified with onset date June 25-July 24, 2009, Witkop's team wrote in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The cadets, unusually young and healthy, all did well and none became seriously ill or died. Most cases were traced to a July 4 party for the cadets, Witkop said.

It was about 48 to 72 hours later that we saw the increase in the cadets presenting with the symptoms, Witkop said in a telephone interview.

Witkop said the academy doctors quickly designated one dormitory for the sick cadets and kept them away from the others.

They tested them daily for the virus, painting a picture of the course of the disease far more detailed than has been possible before.


Eleven, or 19 percent of nose washes taken from 58 patients who had been free of symptoms for a full 24 hours still contained virus, although it is not clear if the patients were still contagious.

If a cadet is no longer coughing or sneezing, how likely this virus is to be transmitted is still a question, Witkop said.