Study of a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in a Belgian military education and training center in Maradi, Niger

Jean-Paul Pirnay, Philippe Selhorst, Christel Cochez, Mauro Petrillo, Vincent Claes, Yolien Van der Beken, Gilbert Verbeken, Julie Degueldre, France T'Sas, Guy Van den Eede, Wouter Weuts, Cedric Smets, Jan Mertens, Philippe Geeraerts, Kevin K Ariën, Pierre Neirinckx, Patrick Soentjens

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review

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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) compromises the ability of military forces to fulfill missions. At the beginning of May 2020, 22 out of 70 Belgian soldiers deployed to a military education and training center in Maradi, Niger, developed mild COVID-19 compatible symptoms. Immediately upon their return to Belgium, and two weeks later, all seventy soldiers were tested for SARS-CoV-2 RNA (RT-qPCR) and antibodies (two immunoassays). Nine soldiers had at least one positive COVID-19 diagnostic test result. Five of them exhibited COVID-19 symptoms (mainly anosmia, ageusia, and fever), while four were asymptomatic. In four soldiers, SARS-CoV-2 viral load was detected and the genomes were sequenced. Conventional and genomic epidemiological data suggest that these genomes have an African most recent common ancestor and that the Belgian military service men were infected through contact with locals. The medical military command implemented testing of all Belgian soldiers for SARS-CoV-2 viral load and antibodies, two to three days before their departure on a mission abroad or on the high seas, and for specific missions immediately upon their return in Belgium. Some military operational settings (e.g., training camps in austere environments and ships) were also equipped with mobile infectious disease (COVID-19) testing capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number949
Issue number9
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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