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  • NHRC Hosts Respiratory Diseases Working Group to Keep Warfighters Healthy

    SAN DIEGO – The Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) hosted a working group for military researchers from around the globe to discuss future directions for respiratory diseases surveillance, testing, and research in support of force health protection, May 24-25.

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    The group, Respiratory Illness Surveillance Working Group (RISWG), is part of the Global Emerging Infections Surveillance (GEIS) section at the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB). The mission of the AFHSB is to contribute to the protection of all Department of Defense (DoD) beneficiaries and the global community by integrating a worldwide disease surveillance system.

    “Our mission is force health protection,” said Public Health Service Capt. Michael Cooper, lead for respiratory infection surveillance for GEIS. “That’s what we are really concerned with—keeping the warfighter well. The purpose of this meeting was to get together with our partner laboratories and discuss the future of respiratory illness surveillance for the DoD.”
    Researchers and public health professionals came for the meeting from Navy, Army, and Air Force laboratories located around the world, including Thailand, Germany, and Peru, and throughout the U.S. The locations represent places where there is a U.S. military presence as well as places important for respiratory diseases surveillance such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS CoV) and influenza, particularly the H5N1 strain.
    “These are very important public health problems,” said Cooper. “Keeping vigilant of their spread, transmission rates, and the severity associated with the diseases and then reporting our findings to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization really puts us in the thick of the fight to catch emerging infectious diseases.”
    According to Dr. Christopher Myers, head of biosurveillance at NHRC, topics for the two-day meeting included discussing which pathogens have the largest impact on operational readiness, best practices for testing samples to maximize detection of infectious diseases, evaluating new technologies for shipboard and forward-deployed use, sharing data regarding influenza vaccine effectiveness in terms of global public health, and data and sample sharing among RISWG partners.
    One outcome of the meeting is that the RISWG will place more emphasis on providing influenza surveillance data for southern hemisphere vaccine selection to the CDC. This will support health readiness for troops who deploy globally.
    “Influenza is very contagious and easily spread,” said Cooper. “Flu viruses can mutate and change, turning into something novel that the average individual won’t have any real immunological defense against, which is why so much time and effort is spent on surveillance.”
    NHRC’s role in respiratory disease surveillance and analysis enabled the early detection and identification of a novel influenza virus, H1N1, in 2009. During routine testing, NHRC scientists discovered two influenza A cases that were different—they didn’t subtype as either of the seasonal strains that year. Using advanced molecular diagnostic techniques, NHRC was able to identify the first cases of the 2009 pandemic. This early identification allowed U.S. public health authorities to respond to the outbreak in a timely manner.
    “NHRC and GEIS share the common goals of promoting force health protection and protecting our warfighters from respiratory diseases, especially influenza,” said Capt. Rita Simmons, commanding officer at NHRC. “Our partnership is a natural outcome of these mutual interests, and our collaborative efforts to mitigate infectious respiratory diseases through research and development is vital to readiness. A sick warfighter is not mission ready.”
    As the DoD’s premier deployment health research center, NHRC’s cutting-edge research and development is used to optimize the operational health and readiness of the nation’s armed forces. In proximity to more than 95,000 active duty service members, world-class universities, and industry partners, NHRC sets the standard in joint ventures, innovation, and translational research.