NEWS | May 16, 2010

NRL-SSC Microbiologist Returns from Haiti

By Shannon Breland

LCDR Matthew Doan, a microbiologist at Naval Research Laboratory-Stennis Space Center (NRL-SSC), recently returned from a 10-week deployment to Port au Prince, Haiti, as part of Operation Unified Response.

Doan, who is assigned to NRL's Marine Geosciences Division, volunteered to deploy to the region after learning of a need for a microbiologist in a Navy Forward Deployable Preventive Medicine Unit (FDPMU) from the Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit No. 2 (NEPMU2) located in Norfolk, Va.

I knew everyone in the unit from previous deployments or training exercises, said Doan. So it was an easy decision to make.

In addition to Doan, the 13-member team consisted of an environmental health officer, industrial hygiene officer, preventive medicine officer, entomologist, laboratory technician, general hospital corpsman and six preventive medicine technicians.

Berthed less than a mile from the Port au Prince airport, the team was tasked with providing occupational and environmental risk surveillance (OERS) for Dept. of Defense personnel in camps around the island. DoD personnel are currently providing valuable humanitarian assistance in the Haitian community. The preventive medicine unit ensured the health of DoD personnel.

To prevent the spread of disease, the team sampled water, air and soil for potential health hazards and countered risks with various forms of preventive treatment. One major source of concern for the team was the ever-present mosquitoes and, thus, the possible spread of malaria and other vector-borne diseases among DoD personnel.

The entomologist stayed busy responding to calls: spraying and putting out bait, said Doan. He was the face of the effort, the P.R. guy for what we were doing as a team.

Despite the entomologist's best efforts and access to anti-malarial drugs, some DoD personnel still contracted malaria. When malaria was the expected cause of a person's illness, Doan was called to confirm the diagnosis by identifying the parasite.

He used the confirmed cases to stress to other sailors and soldiers the importance of using mosquito netting, taking their prescribed daily anti-malarial medication and ensuring their uniforms were treated with DEET.

Teaching is a form of preventive medicine, said Doan. In addition to teaching DoD personnel to prevent disease and injury, he also trained other medical and laboratory personnel in identifying diseases. When he deployed to the area in January, he brought microscopes, stains and other lab supplies to conduct his fieldwork. Prior to leaving Haiti, he trained Army medical technicians to use them to identify the presence of malaria.

I saw things I will never forget, said Doan. I am thankful I went. It was rewarding work.

On April 2, the deputy commander of Operation Unified Response said the U.S. military will continue to support the work of Haiti's government and international agencies after the task force is deactivated at the end of May. At its peak, some 20,000 U.S. servicemembers were involved in the mission. A phased withdrawal has reduced that number to 2,400.