The U.S. Department of Defense is working to keep soldiers safe from chemical agents and infectious diseases.
Under its Chemical and Biological Defense Program, the department is putting in the early effort to make sure safety is a priority.
“My office is organized as … a physical team and a medical team, whether we're looking at the external protection versus the internal protection,” Dr. Christian Hassell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense, said. “The external or physical team does things like suits, protective shelter and detectors, and there they look both at chem and bio.”
The goal of Hassell’s teams is to develop tools for soldiers, so those in the field have the tools they need to survive. Some tools include diagnostic detectors for biological and chemical threats. The best way to avoid a threat is to have an early warning system.
“Wherever possible you try an integrated system, so that mask will protect an individual against as broad a spectrum as possible of chemical agents,” Hassell said. “Or making sure a vaccine can protect against as many strains as possible.”
Infectious diseases cause issues because many strains can occur. Strains can also mutate.
“For some organisms, if we develop a vaccine for one specific strain and then it mutates, the vaccine may no longer work -- and that wouldn't be practical,” Hassell said. “You'd have to vaccinate against every bug, every year, for every person.”