Air Force members on temporary duty or permanently assigned to Japan or South Korea, as well as all Marines serving with III Marine Expeditionary Force in Asia are now required to get the Japanese encephalitis vaccine.
As of Feb. 1, all airmen serving in Japan or South Korea for more than 30 days must get the two-shot series of the vaccine, known by the brand-name Ixiaro.
Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, III MEF commander, issued a message Dec. 1 stating that all personnel arriving in the MEF area of operations, including Hawaii, must get the immunization before arriving in the region.
Current Defense Department guidelines on the vaccine follow the recommendations of the Health and Human Services Department’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, which says travelers planning to stay longer than 30 days in areas of Asia and the Western Pacific where the disease is endemic should consider getting the immunization.
The Defense Department also recommends that personnel get it if they are going to be stationed for more than 30 days in places where the disease is endemic, particularly if they will be engaged in prolonged field or night exercises and operations.
While the risk of contracting Japanese encephalitis is low — less than 1 percent — the disease, which can cause fever, headache, neck stiffness and disorientation, has a 20 percent to 30 percent fatality rate.
It also carries the risk of causing serious neurological and cognitive damage — lifelong consequences that affect 30 percent to 50 percent of victims who survive the disease.
In a statement to airmen, Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Thomas Travis said the vaccine is now mandatory to ensure that airmen follow the ACIP guidelines and are adhering to practices in host countries.
Read More:New vaccine regs for airmen, Marines in Asia.