Navy Medicine Unit Develops Virus Test Kit

Story Number: NNS120313-14Release Date: 3/13/2012 9:33:00 AM
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From Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center Public Affairs

NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Navy Environmental Preventive Medicine Unit (NEPMU) 2 in Norfolk announced March 12 the development of a norovirus testing kit to help identify outbreaks Navy-wide.

The testing kit was created by a research team led by Lt. Chris Coetzer, NEPMU-2 biochemist, to support the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center's (NMCPHC) initiative to better manage the burden of norovirus outbreaks and subsequent fleet manpower losses.

"We are rolling out the new kit to the fleet this spring, starting with ships that are deploying out of Norfolk," said Lt. Cmdr. Jamal Dejli, director of the NEPMU-2 microbiology laboratory. "We will then we'll train the labs that service the fleet in other areas."

Noroviruses are the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis (AGI) worldwide. Cmdr. Cynthia Sikorski, NEPMU-2's Threat Assessment Department head, said the low dose required for the virus to produce infection and the ease with which it's transmitted make it extremely contagious.

"NEPMU-2's innovative sampling technique for norovirus outbreaks will have significant impact in understanding the epidemiology and true burden of the disease, and ultimately enhance prevention efforts," said Sikorski.

While norovirus is usually a mild, self-limiting disease, high morbidity and hospitalization rates are associated with it. The explosiveness of the outbreaks has the potential to significantly affect fleet operational mission capabilities. There are currently no vaccines or medicines that can prevent Norovirus infections, which increases the importance of the testing kit.

Approximately 50 percent of all reported AGI outbreaks are caused by norovirus. Symptoms of a norovirus infection may include the rapid-onset of acute vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramps.

Diarrhea is more common in children and vomiting in adults. Dehydration is the most common complication. Symptoms of the disease last an average of 12 to 60 hours. Unfortunately, there is no long-lasting immunity to norovirus; thus, outbreaks can affect people of all ages and in a variety of settings.

Coetzer said those suffering from this illness should drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration and seek medical attention immediately. He also recommended regular hand washing, especially when coming in contact with potential contaminated sources.

"Contaminated surfaces in ship's heads, medical, berthing, or other spaces where people gather may become important sources of new infections," said Coetzer. "Norovirus can survive up to 12 hours on hard surfaces in the environment, and up to 12 days on contaminated carpet or textile materials such as swabs (mops) used for cleaning."

The development of the new specimen collection method demonstrates the innovative thought process that is the hallmark of the three Environmental and Preventive Medicine units located in Norfolk, San Diego and Hawaii, said Cmdr. Andrew Vaughn, NEPMU-2 officer-in-charge.

"Our personnel encounter real-world problems such as the need to collect specimens of a highly contagious pathogen and find practical solutions to safely and efficiently meet that need," he said.

"Whether it is in the field of microbiology, prevention, industrial hygiene, entomology, environmental health, audiology or disease surveillance, NEPMU-2 personnel are always seeking to improve, streamline or simplify the process of accomplishing the mission with an eye toward conserving precious resources. Innovations like the norovirus testing kit support our ultimate goal of providing timely answers and relevant services to the fleet and Marine forces."

NEPMU-2 and NMCPHC are part of the Navy Medicine team, a global healthcare network of 63,000 Navy medical personnel around the world who provide high quality health care to more than one million eligible beneficiaries. Navy Medicine personnel deploy with Sailors and Marines worldwide, providing critical mission support aboard ship, in the air, under the sea and on the battlefield.

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