“Plague Island”: Home to the world’s deadliest viruses
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Friedrich Loeffler Institute on the island of Riems, Germany

On a small and remote island in the icy waters of the Baltic Sea, there is a place, almost completely isolated from the world, which holds some of humanity’s worst nightmares: viruses.

Off the coast of Germany, there is an island that is home to some of humanity’s smallest but dangerous enemies.

Known as “plague island”, the island of Riems in northern Germany is home to the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI), one of 59 biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories that are authorized to carry out experiments in some of the most dangerous pathogens known to Science.

According to IFL Science, the institute is one of the few BSL-4 laboratories authorized to carry out large-scale studies with animals, an especially risky task when dealing with zoonotic diseases that can “jump” from species to species.

Animals are infected with the viruses and used to better understand how they take root, spread and how various types of diseases can be prevented. The only two other facilities in the world where this type of animal research is possible are in Winnipeg, Canada, and Geelong, Australia.

The island is inaccessible to the public, even though some parts are low risk. In high-security buildings, investigators must wear a full-protection HAZMAT suit, with air filtered through a hose, and undergo a disinfectant shower before entering or leaving the premises.

The building is completely sealed off from the outside world, with multiple air chambers, and maintained under negative pressure to ensure that air flows in and not out. Any air or water that leaves the building must be subjected to intense filtration and sterilization.

The laboratory complex on the island of Riems is one of the oldest viral research facilities of its kind. The institute was founded by Friedrich Loeffler in 1910 to study foot-and-mouth disease, an infectious viral disease that affects cattle, sheep, goats and swine.

Despite becoming one of the main pioneers of foot-and-mouth disease research in the 20th century, the institute has expanded its portfolio to study several deadly diseases that affect both non-human animals and humans, including foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, Ebola, Nipah , Rift Valley fever, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, bluetongue, rabies, Q fever, influenza, Yersinia plague and SARS-CoV-2.

Although the task is quite risky, understanding these viruses could be central to our future. With this knowledge, the world may be a little better prepared for the next pandemic.

Source: with agencies

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