Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Communicable diseases in humanitarian operations and disasters
  1. Ronan James Murphy
  1. General Duties Medical Officer, 3 Medical Regiment, Preston PR2 8AA, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ronan James Murphy, General Duties Medical Officer, 3 Medical Regiment, Preston PR2 8AA, UK; ronan.murphy{at}


Military organisations have battled communicable disease for millennia. They have pioneered disease prevention from the Crusades to the World Wars and continue to do so today. Predeployment vaccinations and chemoprophylaxis are effective in preventing communicable disease, as is reliable vector destruction and bite prevention, especially in the era of multidrug resistant organisms. These measures are unlikely to be fully possible in disasters, but reactive vaccination and efforts to reduce exposure to communicable disease should be a priority. Communicable diseases can be challenging to diagnose—the UK Defence Medical Services have become familiar with tools such as multiplex PCR and mass spectrometry. These have the potential to accurately identify organisms and sensitivity patterns in austere environments. Management of communicable diseases depends on accurate diagnosis and has a largely well-established evidence base but can be limited by a lack of resources and skills in an austere setting, therefore telemedicine can assist diagnosis and treatment of infections by projecting specialist skill. Systems such as EpiNATO2 are useful in monitoring diseases and identifying trends in order to establish control measures. Many of these tools and techniques are effective in austere environments and offer learning opportunities for those providing care in similar settings. Further research is ongoing into diagnostic tools as well as remote management.

  • infectious diseases
  • tropical medicine
  • molecular diagnostics

Data availability statement

No data are available.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Data availability statement

No data are available.

View Full Text


  • Twitter @RonanJMurphy

  • Contributors RJM is the sole author and responsible for all elements of this work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.