By Lt. Cmdr. Rhonda Lizewski
You may not know this but the U.S. Navy and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a lot in common. They both have made substantial efforts to control infectious diseases, including those carried by insects and small animals, since the end of World War II.
U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 3 (NAMRU-3) was founded in 1946 in Cairo, Egypt following the Typhus Commission, founded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help control this deadly disease that afflicted military and civilians.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control was founded a little later that same year in Atlanta, out of a wartime effort to control malaria. The agency’s former name was Malaria Control in War Areas.
These two agencies integrated in 1999 to combine their disease fighting missions into one when CDC embedded a team at NAMRU-3. The next step was the establishment at NAMRU-3 of the CDC Global Disease Detection (GDD) Regional Center in 2006, with our missions once again aligned to detect and control emerging infectious diseases.
In Cairo, GDD programs include Severe Acute Respiratory Infection surveillance in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, Hospital Infection Control, and Acute Febrile Illness and Acute Respiratory illness at a hospital in the Egyptian Delta area of Damanhour, as well as the Field Epidemiology Training Program.
I am a member of this committed group which includes Egyptian doctors and scientists, as well as an American entomologist and a U.S. Navy physician. Our time is spent either in NAMRU-3 offices or out in the field around Egypt. In the office we review data from surveillance sites ensuring new viruses that could cause serious respiratory diseases have not emerged.
In Damanhour, Egypt, we work in local Ministry of Health hospitals and labs to detect the causes of disease in our study patients. We visit hospitals in many locations in the country to help ensure they are doing what is necessary to keep their patients from getting infections. And we work with the Egyptian Ministry of Health to share experiences with Egyptian doctors interested in epidemiology with the goal to create more disease detectives like the ones we have in the Navy and with the CDC.