U.S. Air Force Demonstrates Transportable Isolation Unit at FIDAE
By Dialogo April 12, 2016
Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Zika, and chikungunya are emerging, infectious diseases that have substantial health and wellness impact as well as a severe economic impact across the globe.
The Zika virus has already cost billions in disease management, and is expected to cost billions more in lost tourism and trade in the Western hemisphere. In order to increase the sharing of biosurveillance data between partners, the U.S. Southern Command's (SOUTHCOM) Surgeon General, Colonel Rudy Cachuela, has been working closely with nations throughout the region. Real-time communication of disease surveillance information allows nations to better prepare and respond to threats in a concerted effort.
The U.S. Air Force (USAF) Medical Service (AFMS) has been eager to engage in these information-sharing relationships throughout the Americas. “We understand that health is a common denominator in the region: we all want it, we all need it,” stated U.S. Air Force Major Joshua Vess, an International Health Specialist at Air Forces Southern in Tucson, Arizona. “One of the ways that AFMS is seeking to share this information is through Global Health Engagements with our partner nations.”
Last week, Air Mobility Command (AMC) medics traveled to Chile to participate in the International Air and Space Fair (FIDAE)
to share their recently developed Transportable Isolation Unit (TIS) with regional partners attending the trade show.
Satisfying new requirements
In 2013, a new requirement to conduct air evacuation for highly infectious patients was met with the challenge of safely transporting and providing medical care to patients on an aircraft while preventing the aircraft from becoming contaminated. The result was the TIS, which is made up of two isolation units and an anteroom mounted on patient support pallets that can accommodate up to four highly infectious patients and up to four medical professionals.
Each isolation section, which is roughly the size of a minivan and weighs less than 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms), has two patient beds, two seats for medical personnel, and portable toilets for patients. The system includes an anteroom where medics can change into personal protective equipment while being observed by other medics to prevent self-contamination.
The system also has two high-efficiency particulate air scrubbers that ensure the air is constantly recycled inside the TIS while creating sufficient negative air pressure to prevent biological agents from escaping the unit. The TIS has global reach and can be utilized on a C-130, while two systems can be used on the C-17.
The AMC also had to develop an Air Evacuation (AE) team proficient in infectious disease management and ready to deploy at any time. In addition to universal precautions and personal protective equipment training, they added an infectious disease physician to these AE crews to ensure patients receive the best care.
Though other nations have developed isolation “bubbles” for use on aircraft, the TIS is the first to provide en-route patient care instead of placing patients in isolation while medics observe from outside the “bubble,” unable to provide the full range of medical care to patients developing problems during flight.
Nine AMC medics with expertise ranging from infectious disease, TIS logistical management, AE en-route care, and TIS decontamination traveled to FIDAE to share the new technology and discuss USAF AE-specific scientific developments, with the goal of equipping U.S. partners with the knowledge to support Military operations in the face of global infectious disease threats. The C-17 and the TIS were open for tours and the AMC provided demonstrations and briefings to over 20,000 participants who visited the C-17 and were eager to learn about the TIS's capabilities.
Brigadier General Kory Cornum, AMC Surgeon General, participated in the event and utilized meetings with partner nations' operational and medical leadership to communicate why they participated in FIDAE. “Our goal is to share knowledge, procedures, and equipment to ensure many countries in the world are able to transport highly contagious infectious disease patients so that everyone has the best care possible,” he said.