Defense Department News

Army Institute Responds to Growing Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

Aug. 4, 2014 | BY Cheryl Pellerin

A small group of military and civilian personnel assigned to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, is in Liberia as part of a larger U.S. interagency response to the world’s worst outbreak of the Ebola virus which continues to spread in West Africa, a Defense Department spokesman said today.

Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters that personnel assigned to USAMRIID have established diagnostic laboratories in Liberia and Sierra Leone, two of three countries where the outbreak has been spreading in recent months.

The small team is on the ground in Liberia along with a diagnostic lab in Sierra Leone. There are no plans at this time to establish a lab in Guinea, officials said.

Guinea is the third country where one of the world’s most virulent diseases has been killing men, women and children since March, and now the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say Ebola has spread to Nigeria, a fourth country.

WHO and CDC reported today that over July 31 and Aug. 1, 163 new laboratory-confirmed, probable and suspected cases of the Ebola virus as well as 61 new deaths in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now, Nigeria.

Three of the cases are in Nigeria and include two new probable cases -- one a health-care worker and a Nigerian who traveled to Guinea -- as well as a suspected case in a nurse.

WHO said 59 contacts with the infected individual-- 15 airport staff in Nigeria and 44 at a hospital -- have been identified. The report confirms that the patient traveled by air and arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, on July 20 via Lome, Togo, and Accra, Ghana.

The sample from this case has not yet been sent to the WHO Collaborating Centre at the Institute Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, because courier companies have refused to transport it, WHO officials said.

“Though only one probable case has been detected so far in Nigeria, Ebola virus infection in this country represents a significant development in the course of this outbreak,” a WHO official said in a July 31 statement.

At the Pentagon today, Warren said USAMRIID has “provided personal protective equipment to those involved in the testing and they've supplied thousands of Ebola test kits to laboratory personnel.”

USAMRIID’s mission is to protect the warfighter from biological threats and to be prepared to investigate disease outbreaks or other public health threats. It has been the Defense Department’s lead laboratory since 1969 for medical biological defense research including against threats that can affect the warfighter such as anthrax, botulism, plague and other viral diseases. 

“We also evaluate and develop diagnostic instruments and technologies for use in forward field medical laboratories and with the Joint Biological Agent Identification and Detection System, called JBAIDS, the diagnostics platform used across the DoD,” it adds.

Through a partnership with the CDC and the DoD Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System, USAMRIID transitioned the CDC diagnostic assays for avian flu and swine flu to the JBAIDS platform, letting all military organizations with the JBAIDS platform to use the CDC assays to rapidly detect the viruses.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)