FOI in exercise to detect infectious pathogens in waterways


As soon as a suspicion that a waterway may have been contaminated by dangerous infectious agents, rapid and reliable testing is required. To be able to improve response in acute situations, FOI has participated in a joint exercise, involving water filtration and analysis, with a number of government agencies.

The exercise was held in Lake Mälaren from 5-6 September. In addition to FOI, the Public Health Agency, the National Food Agency, the National Veterinary Institute and the Armed Forces took part. The participants were laboratory personnel who are accustomed to working with dangerous infectious agents in secure high-containment facilities.

In order to respond rapidly to cases of suspected bacterial infection, for example from anthrax and tularemia that may infect livestock and people via water, participants received training in sampling water with the use of an ultrafiltration method.

“Earlier, there have been cases where livestock became sick in the vicinity of an anthrax grave and then one has had to take samples from nearby watercourses to see whether they had spread the bacteria,” says Emelie Näslund, a scientist at FOI.

The ultrafiltration method that was used involves pumping water from a body of water and straining it through a fine-pored filter. The same kind of filter is also used in dialysis of patients with reduced kidney function. When enough water has passed through the filter, it is then packaged and transported in a safe way to a secure high-containment laboratory. The participants were able to practice every step of the process, from the preparatory work to the final analysis of the concentrated water that is extracted from the filter.

Behind the training was the network, Forum for Biopreparedness Diagnostics (FBD), which FOI and the other agencies are a part of.

“As government agencies we must be able to help each other in crisis situations and therefore it’s extremely important to train together. There’s also always something new to learn from or share with each other. This time we were also able to practice together with the Armed Forces and this felt meaningful,” concludes Emelie Näslund.