News: 379 Expeditionary Medical Group first to validate new system
Story by Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The 379th Expeditionary Medical Group has acquired a new tool in its never ending quest to keep base residents healthy.
The Joint Biological Agent Identification and Diagnostic System has been modified to aid in diagnosing patients with the H1N1 flu virus. Housed in its own trailer, the JBAIDS is managed and run by the Biological Augmentation Team.
"When we first arrived here, there was nothing in [the trailer]," said Tech Sgt. Vernon Smith, team NCOIC, deployed from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. "Within a week, we had it cleaned up and ready to go."
The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., recently found a way to apply it to H1N1 detection. Biological Augmentation Team Chief Maj. Lorenzo Gabiola and Smith were the first Air Force members to be trained on the testing methods.
"We were lucky to have the training before we arrived in country so we could hit the ground running," Smith said, adding that in other deployed areas trainers were sent to the AOR to bring medical personnel up to speed on the system's capabilities.
Being one of only two people trained to operate JBAIDS here, Smith understands the difference between this mission and the job he performs as a lab technician at his home station.
"I consider this my 'bonus job,'" he said. "It's a great mission."
The 379 EMDG Public Health Flight recommends whether a patient needs to be tested based on the servicemembers' answers on the Department of Defense Global Influenza Surveillance Program questionnaire.
"Not everyone who has a cough or a runny nose has the flu," Gabiola said, "but when they have several symptoms, especially fever, they will most likely be tested."
When a patient is identified as potentially having the virus, a nasopharyngeal swab is taken. The sample is taken to the JBAIDS lab and transferred to a viral transport medium, which is stored at -70 degrees Fahrenheit to isolate the virus.
Next, ribonucleic acid is extracted from the sample. RNA is the genetic material that will signal the presence of the virus. During extraction, great care must be taken to avoid contaminating the sample and protective equipment must be worn to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus.
After extraction, reagents known as primers and probes are added. These attach themselves to the RNA and allow it to be seen more easily when the sample is placed in the JBAIDS machine. The machine uses a chain reaction technology that copies and amplifies the virus's genetic signature so it can be positively identified.
The entire procedure from extraction to identification can take up to five hours to complete and the area around the machine must be kept extremely clean to ensure the integrity of the sample. "It is a very complex and sensitive machine," Gabiola said, also deployed from Tinker. "It requires 100 percent accurate procedures."
The procedures used by the BAT were recently validated by the Center for Disease Control, which means results no longer need to be sent elsewhere for confirmation. "We're the first JBAIDS in the AOR to go live," Gabiola said. As a result, Gabiola said the turn around time for test results is now 24 to 48 hours as opposed to seven days or more when the samples were sent to labs in Europe or the U.S. for analysis.
Faster results means a faster return to the fight for warriors who fall ill here in Southwest Asia.