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Navy unit provided COVID-19 support to Peruvian First Responders

Image of Fireman getting COVID test in firehouse garage. Bombero physician collects sample for testing at the Bellavista Fire Station No. 60 in Callao, Peru. (Courtesy Photo.)

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U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit Number 6 (NAMRU-6) recently provided COVID-19 support to the Bellavista Fire Station No. 60 in Callao, Peru.

Responding to a reported COVID-19 exposure among the Bellavista Fire Station No. 60 firefighters, NAMRU-6 tested 45 de-identified, coded samples from firefighters with a possible exposure to individuals with confirmed cases SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 infection.

The testing performed by NAMRU-6 is based upon the detection of the virus’ nucleic acids through a sensitive method known as Real Time Reverse Transcriptase- Polymerase Chain Reaction. Results identified samples that showed detectable levels of the virus and were provided to fire station leadership the same day. Collaborating with the fire station medical and safety staff allowed immediate isolation of infected individuals to prevent further COVID-19 spread among emergency workers. 

The province of Callao has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in Peru, and the implementation of infection control measures remains a critical component to slowing the spread of the virus. Through the foresight of the Bellavista Fire Station leadership and the swift response of NAMRU-6 scientists, Bellavista Fire Station No. 60 could continue their critical mission, which includes providing first responder support to the U.S. Navy lab.

The Bellavista Fire Station No. 60 is located on the Centro Médico Naval installation in Callao, which is where the NAMRU-6 compound is also located. The fire station has been supporting the lab dating back to 2009 when NAMRU-6 leadership identified gaps in emergency management response and annual exercises. NAMRU-6 requested firefighting and rescue response support from the fire station and the relationship became official in the NAMRU-6 Emergency Management Plan. The partnership currently supports annual exercises in emergency scenarios such as fire in a laboratory, large-scale chemical spills, large-scale biological spills, rescue of injured personnel, and health emergencies such as a heart attack. 

“The ability to provide a critical service to our Peruvian partners underscores the collaborative effort that NAMRU-6 seeks with all our partners, especially during this unprecedented global crisis,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Michael Prouty, deputy research science director at NAMRU-6.

NAMRU-6 Safety Director Roberto Cosio mentioned, “The firemen participate as first responders and provide basic life support or initial emergency aid to injured people. The molecular testing provided to the firemen not only helped prevent the spread of COVID-19 to their coworkers and families, but also the individuals they assist on a daily basis.”

The Peruvian Navy hosts NAMRU-6 at their flagship hospital in Lima, and naval clinics in Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado. NAMRU-6 conducts research on and surveillance of a wide range of infectious diseases of military and public health significance in the region; and anti-microbial resistance monitoring.

“As the host of NAMRU-6 for the past 37 years, the Peruvians have provided us with immeasurable support in advancing our infectious disease research mission,” said U.S. Navy Capt. William Howard, NAMRU-6 commanding officer. “When we received the request from the Bellavista Firefighters, we were more than happy to be able to help with the testing and continue our longstanding friendship.”

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