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  • Meningococcal Disease Surveillance Protects the Health of U.S. Forces

    ​KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Scientists from the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) discussed the role that ongoing meningococcal disease surveillance plays in force health protection during the Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS), Aug. 27.

    NHRC Meningoccoal Graphic(600px).jpg 
    (Title graphic from NHRC Public Affairs)

    Meningococcal disease—a severe, contagious, and sometimes fatal illness that infects the lining of the brain, spinal cord, and other vital organs—can devastate the health and readiness of U.S. military personnel. Because of the disease’s threat to service members, the Department of Defense (DoD) has mandated that all personnel be vaccinated against the disease.

    In addition to the protection troops get from being immunized, NHRC has conducted surveillance for meningococcal disease since 2007 throughout the DoD to quickly identify any instances of the disease. Military sites with suspected cases of the disease collect specimens and ship them to NHRC for conventional serotyping and molecular typing. After testing is done at NHRC, individual reports are provided to the sites and surveillance data are included in the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch report, which are made available to the public and scientific community.

    Researchers from NHRC’s Operational Infectious Diseases laboratory say rates of meningococcal diseases have declined dramatically in DoD populations over the past decade, becoming equivalent to those seen in the general U. S. population after matching for age. Since the advent of a vaccine developed by the military in the early 1970s, rates have fallen by more than 90%.

    Ongoing surveillance, say researchers, demonstrates that vaccination has resulted in a dramatic reduction of meningococcal cases in the military. It also shows that cases continue to occur sporadically.

    Within the last four months of 2016, five cases of meningococcal disease occurred in active duty personnel. Only one was a strain covered by the vaccine—two cases were caused by non-vaccine strains and by strains that could not be determined.

    According to researchers, the recent emergence of new cases of meningococcal diseases emphasize the importance of surveillance activities and infectious diseases research to evaluate changes in the disease and inform new vaccine development and policy.

    NHRC is accredited by the College of American Pathologists and is one of 35 worldwide partners in the Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System (GEIS), a section of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB).

    NHRC’s Operational Infectious Diseases researchers write peer-reviewed articles about meningococcal disease and immunization for scientific journals and publish a quarterly meningococcal surveillance report as part of its ongoing efforts to confirm and characters suspected cases of the disease.

    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.


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