WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Ahead of the Olympic games in Japan next summer, the country decided to prepare diagnostic tests for potential outbreaks — by importing the Ebola virus and four other deadly pathogens.
- The viruses are currently held in a secure facility about 30 kilometers west of Tokyo.
- Experts say that the live samples will be used in diagnostic tests that will determine whether an infected person is still contagious or already in recovery.
The Olympic games in Japan next summer will surely draw in tens of thousands of sports fans from all over the world — along with some possibly lethal pathogens from their home countries.
So Japan decided to prepare diagnostic tests for potential outbreaks — by reportedly importing the Ebola virus and four other deadly pathogens.
According to a Nature report, the pathogens are all rated “biosafety-level-4” (BSL-4) — the most dangerous viruses ever allowed to enter Japan. The viruses are currently held in the Japanese health ministry’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) in Musashimurayama, about 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of Tokyo.
The facility currently contains these viruses: Ebola; the Marburg and Lassa viruses; and viruses that cause Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever and South American hemorrhagic fever. The live samples will be used in diagnostic tests that will determine whether an infected person is still contagious or already in recovery.
The BSL-4 lab requires researchers to follow strict safety protocols: wear full-body, air-supplied, pressurized suits; change clothes before entering; shower upon exiting; and decontaminate all materials before exiting.
Japan’s minister for health, labor, and welfare, Takumi Nemoto, told Kyodo News: “We have come to a good level of understanding on the matter. It is a major stride toward protection” against potential outbreaks.
Local residents have protested against NIID’s plan to import the viruses, however.
A representative of the Raizuka residents’ association told The Asahi Shimbun, “It is nonsense for the government to tell us to accept the plan because of the Olympics. We are worried and cannot accept it.”
Experts argued that importing the viruses will allow researchers to prepare for possible outbreaks and study related diseases.
Elke Mühlberger, a Microbiologist at Boston University, told Nature, “A report of an Ebola virus infection during the Olympics could have devastating consequences if the emergency responses were not professional.”
Meanwhile, other scientists warn against the increased risk of bio-terrorist attacks that accompany the global proliferation of BSL-4 labs.
Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and bio-security specialist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, warned that dangerous viruses, even when stored in a highly secure lab, could be accidentally or deliberately released.
Ebright claimed that it may just be a way to “stockpile deadly agents to deter bioattacks from similarly equipped adversaries.”
Source: Live Science