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Department of Defense Increases Zika Virus Research Funding

Examining a mosquito trap in San Juan, Panama, on June 6, 2015, are, from left: Petty Officer 1st Class Luke Peet, Lt. Cmdr. James Dunford and a regional vector control specialist. Derek Paumen/U.S. Navy
Examining a mosquito trap in San Juan, Panama, on June 6, 2015, are, from left: Petty Officer 1st Class Luke Peet, Lt. Cmdr. James Dunford and a regional vector control specialist. Derek Paumen/U.S. Navy

The Pentagon is stepping up its Zika virus surveillance efforts by pumping an extra $1.76 million into Defense Department research labs and military partner labs worldwide.

Those labs had already received $51 million for research to look into how the Zika virus is spreading, DoD officials said. Army or Navy medical research labs in Egypt, Georgia, Kenya, Peru, Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore will benefit from the funding. Army, Navy and Air Force labs in the United States will also benefit.

The Zika virus spreads through bites from the Aedes aegypti mosquito and can cause serious birth defects, including microcephaly, if contracted during pregnancy. It has appeared in 61 countries worldwide, including the U.S., although stateside cases have thus far been limited. About 4,905 confirmed and 194,633 suspected cases of Zika have been reported in the Western Hemisphere as of early April, DoD officials said.

Earlier this year Pentagon officials pledged to move at-risk military family and female service members from overseas locations impacted by the Zika outbreak. At least one pregnant family-member has been moved through that program.

At U.S military-operated facilities, the majority of the research funding plus-up will allow an increase to ongoing global clinic-based surveillance of service members and civilians. The rest of the funding will be focused on the DoD’s blood serum repository, which houses serum samples collected from more than 10 million U.S. service members when they join the military, as well as before and after deployments.

Officials said they will focus their serum research on examining the samples of service members who have been deployed to areas with high rates of Zika infections to determine the exposure level of U.S. troops. About 500 samples from service members stationed in Puerto Rico and 500 from service members deployed to West Africa will be checked, officials said.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com

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