With the H5 controversy of the last few months, there has been some talk about moving the mammalian transmissible or even all highly pathogenic flu viruses into BSL4 laboratories. Here is why it’s a terrible idea.
BSL3, BSL3+, BSL4: What’s the difference?
|BL3 personal protection|
|Bl3+ personal protection|
A BSL4 lab is the highest level of biosafety and containment possible. It includes all the elements of a BSL3+ lab with two main differences. Researchers are required to wear a fully sealed suit that air is pumped into from either the outside or a sealed air tank. These are the moon suits you see in movies like ‘Contagion’ or ‘Outbreak’. Additionally, the researchers take a chemical decontamination shower to exit the lab.
|BL4 personal protection|
Where should it be?
Currently all work done in the US or with US grant money utilizing highly pathogenic influenza is performed under BSL3+ conditions. All facilities are inspected annually by relevant agencies depending on the pathogens in use. This can include the CDC, NIH, USDA and others. Are these safety features enough for these viruses? BSL3 and BSL4 are reserved for work with pathogens that can cause severe to fatal infections in humans. The difference between BSL3 and BSL4 is that BSL3 agents have known and effective treatment strategies and BSL4 agents do not. The only exception being smallpox in BSL4 due to the fact that it has been eliminated from nature. With this in mind, where should mammalian transmissible H5N1 or all highly pathogenic influenza strains be? There is no doubt that highly pathogenic influenza is a very deadly pathogen. The ability to become airborne means standard BSL3 conditions are probably not adequate protection. However the use of PAPRs in BSL3+ are capable of filtering virus out of the air. The research done with these viruses is very clear. The drugs and vaccines we currently have are still very effective against these strains making BSL4 inappropriate. Finally, highly pathogenic influenza is found readily in nature. Humans are exposed to it daily. All of this leads to one very clear conclusion: Highly pathogenic avian influenza, mammalian transmissible or not, does not belong in BSL4. BSL3+ is sufficient protection. A move to BSL4 would be unnecessarily disastrous, not only to influenza research, but also all current BSL4 pathogens. A move to BSL4 would kill many flu labs do to a lack of appropriate facilities. Those flu researchers who would still have access to BSL4 facilities would then be jockeying for time and space inside the facilities that already house other research groups. Retarding research on understanding the most dangerous pathogens is an indescribably terrible idea.
|Even Charles Barkley knows the move is a bad idea.|