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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Infectious diseases may threaten troops as much as combat

On this Memorial Day we honor and recall not just the troops lost in battle and war, but all that those that stood their post in the face of another ancient enemy: infectious disease.

Indeed, causalities of actual combat were often exceeded by those lost to infections in many early American historical conflicts, particularly measles, pertussis, and other respiratory complications leading to pneumonia during the Revolutionary and Civil War.

The threat of infection was underscored by George Washington’s decision to mandate smallpox vaccination for his troops. This link between the military and vaccine use and development was strongly forged in the aftermath of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which was spread in part by the global movements of soldiers.

Today, meeting the infectious disease threats to American troops is the prime mission of the U.S. Military Infectious Diseases Research Program (MIDRP), which develops vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic assays in collaboration with the FDA and fights vector-borne diseases in conjunction with the EPA. In particular, MIDRP research collaborations have been instrumental in the creation of a number of vaccines, including those for influenza, rubella, adenovirus, meningitis, hepatitis A and B vaccine, typhoid and Japanese encephalitis.