Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch Joins Defense Health Agency

Newswise — SILVER SPRING, MD, August 23, 2015 – The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC) when it joins the Defense Health Agency (DHA) today, and brings its expertise in tracking injuries and illnesses among the service members and conducting global health surveillance among its allies to support U.S. national security interests.

AFHSC will operate under DHA’s Public Health Division, which reports to the Healthcare Operations Directorate. DHA, which was established in October, 2013, is responsible for delivering integrated health services to the beneficiaries of the Military Health System (MHS) and driving greater integration of clinical and business processes across the MHS.

AFHSC provides integrated health surveillance analysis to Department of Defense policy makers, and military commanders, healthcare providers and public health officers to assist the MHS in shaping their health protection and preventive medicine programs for service members and associated populations. “We’re excited about joining DHA. The ultimate goal for AFHSC is to make sure that its customers – Department of Defense policymakers, military commanders, public health officers and healthcare providers – have the health surveillance information necessary for them to shape their preventive measures that protect our forces,” said Colonel Michael Bell, who is AFHSC's Chief. “AFHSC's mission is to make sure that our military leaders and interagency partners have timely and comprehensive health surveillance data in their hands to make those decisions.”

As part of the merger, personnel and health surveillance assets from the U.S. Army Public Health Command, U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center will join AFHSC as satellites. The satellites and AFHSC will work to share data, and improve the health surveillance products they deliver to those overseeing force health protection and readiness among service members.

AFHSC is currently organized in to three sections: Epidemiology and Analysis (E&A), Global Emerging Infections Surveillance (GEIS), and Integrated Biosurveillance.The E&A division staff produces routine and periodic reports that look for trends over time of diseases and injuries such as communicable disease, training-related injuries, mental health injuries, traumatic braining injuries, and deployment health.

The E&A staff, which has expertise in public health and epidemiology, extracts relevant data from Defense Medical Surveillance System (DMSS), a depository of more than two billion health care records from multiple sources and integrated into a longitudinal surveillance database for all individuals who have served in the military since 1990. The section also publishes a peer-reviewed journal, Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, whose articles provide estimates of incidence, distribution and impact, and trends of illnesses.

The GEIS Operations section supports a surveillance network of six Department of Defense overseas research laboratories and four U.S.-based Department of Defense reference laboratories that conduct research on endemic and emerging infectious diseases. In fiscal year 2015, GEIS distributed $47.4 million to support surveillance efforts in 65 countries. Some of the funding was used to support the infection control efforts in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak response. GEIS supported influenza surveillance in which WRAIR sequenced 151 H3N2 samples collected from 37 different countries between 2009 and 2014. The results helped identify in advance the appearance of a drifted strain of H3N2 before it arrived in the U.S.

The Integrated Biosurveillance section monitors data sources to detect and communicate all-hazard events – ranging from emerging infectious diseases to environmental incidents – relevant to health of service members. In 2015, the section created and distributed 91 Surveillance Summaries on diseases such as influenza A (H7N9), chikungunya, the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, dengue in Japan, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERs-CoV). The staff also developed up-to-date guidance for detecting and reporting Department of Defense cases of chikungunya, Ebola virus, H7N9, and MERs-CoV.

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