Purpose In 2012, US Marines and Sailors began annual deployments to Australia to participate in joint training exercises with the Australian Defence Force and other partners in the region. During their training, US service members are exposed to a variety of infectious disease threats not normally encountered by American citizens. This paper describes a cohort of US Marines and Sailors enrolled during five rotations to Australia between 2016 and 2020.
Participants Study participation is strictly voluntary. Group informational sessions are held prior to deployment to describe the study structure and goals, as well as the infectious disease threats that participants may encounter while in Australia. All participants provided written informed consent. Consented participants complete a pre-deployment questionnaire to collect data including basic demographic information, military occupational specialty, travel history, family history, basic health status and personal habits such as alcohol consumption. Blood is collected for serum, plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) processing. Data and specimen collection is repeated up to three times: before, during and after deployment.
Findings to date From the five rotations that comprised the 2016-2020 Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, we enrolled 1289 volunteers. Enrolments during this period were overwhelmingly white male under the age of 24 years. Most of the enrollees were junior enlisted and non-commissioned officers, with a smaller number of staff non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers, and minimal warrant officers. Over half of the enrollees had occupational specialty designations for infantry.
Future plans In the future, we will screen samples for serological evidence of infection with Burkholderia pseudomallei, Coxiella burnetii, Ross River virus, SARS-CoV-2 and other operationally relevant pathogens endemic in Australia. Antigenic stimulation assays will be performed on PBMCs collected from seropositive individuals to characterise the immune response to these infections in this healthy American population.