What US Naval Submariners Know About Immunity

What US Naval Submariners Know About Immunity—and You Should Too 

In 1954, the United States commissioned the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. It was a game-changer. As it was no longer necessary to surface to refuel, the amount of time that a submarine could remain submerged dramatically extended. Yet this marvel of engineering also brought a new challenge, remarkably relevant for today’s age of pandemics. 

"Submariners could have easily been the subject of an experiment to measure the spread of a virus"

Never before had Submariners spent such long periods beneath the seas. In confined quarters, living in a recirculated, artificial atmosphere with 100 plus others, Submariners could have easily have been the subject of an experiment to measure the spread of a virus. In other words, it’s a scenario all of us quarantined during the COVID-19 pandemic can now relate to viscerally. 

Most of us spent lockdown at home, leaving only occasionally to get food or supplies, facing potential exposure to the respiratory infection. Then we returned to confinement for long stretches. We wondered how best to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. This is something that Naval Submariners have lived with and learned from for decades.

"Packed into tight quarters with shared air, [viruses] inevitably spread"

Accustomed to the cycle of pulling into a port, dispersing and enjoying shore liberty for a short time, we then return to our boat and depart on deployments which could last months. Very frequently, at least one crew member will have picked up a head cold, respiratory illness, or other symptomatic disease and brought it on-board. It’s unavoidable. And packed into tight quarters with shared air, it inevitably spreads. Submariners know this cycle well, and colloquially refer to the spreading illness as “boat crud”—for sure not a scientific term but it does get the point across!

It should then come as no surprise that research on-board U.S. submarines have found that upper respiratory illnesses are the most common reasons sailors seek medical help. In a study of 1,389 submarine officers, upper respiratory infections were 67% more common than the second most frequent reason for a medical visit: physical injury [1]. Yet what is particularly surprising is how well Submariners manage the frequent challenge.

Specifically, 73 percent of Submariners were able to assume full duties after diagnosis. Furthermore, in 95.8 percent of cases, sailors spent less than two days working in a limited capacity. What accounts for this extraordinary resilience and productivity in the face of illness?

"An ounce of prevention may be better than a pound of cure."

Submariners are, of course, a special bunch—highly trained and fit. Part of the answer, however, is simpler than you may think. Submariners are more attentive to their total health. A review of vitamin and mineral use found that men in the U.S. Navy are on average 21% more likely than their peers in the Army, Marines, and Air Force to use individual vitamin and mineral supplements [2]. And it seems to be working. In a world where infectious disease spread may become more commonplace and unavoidable for everyone, an ounce of prevention may be better than a pound of cure

You can’t stay cooped up inside forever. You certainly can’t remove all risk. But you can arm your immune system with the best vitamins, minerals, and supplements. If you do, you may have that much better a chance to fight the symptoms and get back to your productive life as fast as a Submariner!


Quin Melvin

Reset Logic Advisory Team




[1]  T. Thomas et al., "Health of U.S. Navy Submarine Crew During Periods of Isolation", Aviat Space Environ Med, 2003. [Accessed 27 June 2020].

[2]  J. Knapik, R. Steelman, S. Hoedebecke, E. Farina, K. Austin and H. Lieberman, "A systematic review and meta-analysis on the prevalence of dietary supplement use by military personnel", 2014. [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4023532/. [Accessed: 27 June 2020].