Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dugan Flynn
Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Benjamin Crossley

The loss of watch standers and gut wrenching pain that comes from widespread sickness are problems that can be minimized by efforts taken by all hands.

The medical department and the ship’s food services divisions want to stress the importance of why the crew needs to wash and sanitize their hands as much as possible.

“We wrote around 400 light limited duty (LLD) chits during the underway in February for the virus we had been dealing with,” said Lt. Cmdr. Duneley Rochino, the Ship’s Health Promotion Officer. “The person who gets the virus that was going around is violently ill for one or two days, that effectively takes them away from their watch station. When you multiply that by 400, it makes watch standing very difficult for that period.”

Food services take as many steps as possible to help keep the number of sick people around the ship down to a minimum.

“All food handling personnel are given annual food safety briefings,” said Culinary Specialist 1st Class (SCW) Levy Obana. “If one of our food handlers are sick, we don’t allow them in the kitchen until they are better.”

Even though food services Sailors are doing all they can, it takes the help and cooperation of the entire ship to prevent the spread of illness.

“Sanitation is key, but it’s not enough,” said Obana. “Everyone must wash their hands after using the head, using hand soap. Also, after you put the sanitizer on your hands, it’s important to let it dry, and don’t touch your face or clothing or anything else, otherwise it won’t work.”

Loss of man-hours and lowered morale are not the only cost of widespread sickness such as the outbreak of Norwalk virus in February.

“When we have a lot of people getting sick like we did a few months ago, it takes money and resources away from other things we might need like preparing for deployment or other equipment so that we can replenish our medical supplies,” said Rochino.

“We went through a lot of supplies. If we don’t keep ourselves healthy, we put the ship at risk because we take money away from our warfighting capabilities.”

Rochino said Stennis is not the only ship with these issues and outbreaks of sicknesses on ships are not rare occurrences.

“This is pretty common,” said Rochino. “This has happened on carriers and cruise ships for a long time. It’s not unlikely that this could happen again.”

Despite occurrences of outbreaks within shipboard environments, all hands can take steps to stay healthy and keep the ship running without interruption.

“Any time we bring a large population together like the air wing and ship’s company in close living quarters like this, we are bound to have a group of people getting sick,” said Rochino. “We can minimize it though by keeping our hands clean.”

In the spring of 1992, a large outbreak of gastroenteritis occurred aboard USS Saratoga. Almost 600 people, or 13 percent of the 4,500 person crew, including the air wing, became ill the first 35 days before their first port call. During the February underway on Stennis, about 400 people got sick the first 20 days out at sea.

Medical department and food services would like to remind everyone to wash their hands after using the head, before eating, and as often as possible. These simple steps can prevent widespread sickness while underway.