FALLS CHURCH, Virginia (NNS) -- The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released findings from a joint public health outbreak investigation into how the COVID-19 disease affected crewmembers aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (TR).
“This is a stealthy virus and the results from this outbreak investigation provides us with increased knowledge about COVID-19 so we can better protect the crew, their shipmates on other vessels, and ultimately the nation,” said Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham, US Navy Surgeon General.
The outbreak investigation included asking volunteers to complete a short survey and provide two specimens for laboratory testing (voluntary blood and nasal swab samples). Antibody testing done on nearly 400 service members of the TR show nearly two thirds (62 percent) were infected with SARS-CoV-2 and that most were mildly ill. This is the first CDC published report on this specific demographic of young adults.
A total of 382 service members gave blood samples and a subset, 267, provided nasal swab samples. Blood samples were tested for the presence of antibodies, meaning they had been exposed to the virus, and those that were positive were further tested for their ability to prevent infection by neutralizing the virus. Nasal swabs were used to look for virus RNA.
“This study paints a picture of current and prior SARS-CoV-2 infection among young adults living in close quarters,” said study CDC author Dan Payne, PhD. “This data will contribute to understanding COVID-19 in the U.S. military, as well as among young adults in other close communal environments.”
In addition to the sample collection, study participants completed a questionnaire that included data on demographics, exposures, protective behaviors service members engaged in, health history, symptoms, and self-reporting of previous COVID-19 test.
Other notable findings include:
This study is in line with previous outbreaks on cruise ships which reported undetected transmission of COVID-19 due to mild and asymptomatic infection. Like many other respiratory viruses, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters including those aboard ships and boats. This study shows young, healthy adults with COVID-19 might have mild, atypical, or no symptoms; therefore, symptom-based surveillance might not detect all infections. Use of face coverings and other preventive measures could mitigate transmission in similar settings. The presence of neutralizing antibodies among the majority of participants in this study is promising of at least short-term immunity.
The Navy is committed to make the best-informed decisions to protect the health and safety of its Sailors. USS Theodore Roosevelt’s crew has been impacted by this virus harder than any other military unit. This outbreak investigation provides an opportunity to make a difference and help the nation battle this virus and prevent and contain future outbreaks.