U.S Military Doctors Work To Prevent Pandemic Flu Outbreak In Hawaii

Gail Hathaway
Gail Hathaway

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- Members of the Joint Task Force Homeland Defense Pandemic Influenza Mobile Training Team are working to protect Hawaii from potentially deadly outbreaks of infectious disease.

When it comes to infectious disease, every second counts. Until this week, it took more than 72 hours for samples of potentially dangerous viruses from the Marshal Islands to be transported to the nearest facility where they could be analyzed-- here in Hawaii.

U.S military doctors delivered a $75,000 Lightcycler like this to the Marshall Islands. The gift will give the hospital in Majuro the ability to diagnose viruses without sending them to Hawaii, or Guam.

"Anytime we're able to diagnose a disease more quickly, it allows us to have time to react and treat the disease on the spot, before it would spread across borders," said Colonel Mike Brummage, Chief of Preventative Medicine.

"We're tying to develop a laboratory analysis network so that we can have better information about infectious diseases in the pacific islands and also to help them be prepared for a potential pandemic of avian influenza or bird flu," said Captain Gail Hathaway, U.S. Navy Deputy Fleet Surgeon.

By making the diagnosis faster, U.S. doctors can put counter measures in place and try to restrict the virus to its location of origin.

"When we're talking about respiratory viruses in particular, many of these viruses have short reproduction times, so many more people could get infected if we're not able to get the diagnosis more quickly," said Brummage.

In cases of Avian Influenza, a 6 hour diagnosis will save lives.

"We're talking about very short reproduction times. 24 to 48 hours so that the cases appearing and the diagnosis can actually take several regeneration times, and many more people can be affected," he added.

A team of U.S. doctors will travel to the Marshall Islands again later this month, to train doctors at the Majuro hospital to use the machine.

The Lightcycler will also help prevent other public health emergencies. And, eventually they hope to have the capability to test for bio terrorism agents in the Marshall Islands as well.