Level 4 Laboratory

Level 4 Laboratory

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8:59 min.

Summary

Ebola, Lassa fever... They are some of the deadliest diseases known to humanity, and Canada is bringing them here willingly. Today, the nation's first Level Four containment lab opened in Winnipeg. The $175-million facility is one of just 15 in the world, and it will house some of the most infectious agents the world has ever seen. They could strike at any time, and Canadian scientists want to be ready to fight them when they do.

Transcript of Video

Jill Deacon
Ebola, Lassa fever... They are some of the deadliest diseases known to humanity, and Canada is bringing them here willingly. Today, the nation's first Level Four containment lab opened in Winnipeg. The $175-million facility is one of just 15 in the world, and it will house some of the most infectious agents the world has ever seen. They could strike at any time, and Canadian scientists want to be ready to fight them when they do.

Dr. Artsob
Infectious diseases are not going away... in fact, we seem to be uncovering more and more of them.

Lee Thompson
These are some of the most dangerous organisms that... that are out there addressing human health.

Dr. Heinz Feldman
The transmission route from person to person is mainly by close contact with either... uh... uh... body fluids, like blood, urine, and sweat... tears...

Jay Ingram
This is a community's worst nightmare... Kitwit, Zaire 1995. Doctors and viral experts are battling to contain an outbreak of Ebola. Terrified family members bring in new patients to a makeshift hospital; their symptoms are all the same... vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

Ebola is highly infectious with no known cure. It kills 90 percent of its victims. At the end of this outbreak, 245 are dead. Scientists are on the hunt for answers.

In a few months' time, this deadly bug and others like it will be en route to Canada, to be studied and examined, but not spread. Winnipeg, Manitoba, is the site of a new laboratory complex. Hidden behind this gleaming glass entrance is Canada's very first Level Four lab, the highest level of containment for lethal viruses. A specially designed facility that will allow scientists to investigate emerging diseases in a safe setting.

Doctor Harvey Artsob is the man in charge.

Dr. Harvey Artsob
One uh... interesting situation that perhaps triggered our concern about having a Level four lab occurred way back in 1976, when we had a patient that collapsed at Toronto airport. She was hospitalized in Etobicoke and she was suspected of having Lassa fever infection, and in fact, the hospital was closed for several days, because of all the people that may have been in contact with her. It turned out to be a false alarm... we had to sit and wait with bated breath, if you will, to get an answer.

Jay Ingram
Lassa fever is another viral disease that can cause sudden severe bleeding and death. With Canadians travelling all over the globe, the latest outbreak could happen at any time.

Dr. Harvey Artsob
If there is going to be an outbreak of a level four virus, if a person is going to come to Canada incubating the disease, the important thing is that the disease has to be recognized immediately. The test has to be done as soon as possible.

Jay Ingram
In the early stages of an outbreak, virologists often don't know whether they are dealing with an "old" foe or a totally new bug. Quick diagnosis is key... immediate quarantine is critical.

Dr. Heinz Feldman
To miss a diagnosis of a potential case... that's what I am most afraid about... this could be the beginning of an outbreak of... of an epidemic... um because... the physicians would rely on your diagnosis as an expert and an expert laboratory.

Jay Ingram
In the past, infected samples were shipped south to the United States biosafety lab in Atlanta, Georgia. Results could take time.

Dr. Harvey Artsob
It's the timeliness of the testing that we realize cannot be counted on if it's going to be... if specimens are sent outside the country.

Jay Ingram
In a few months, this will change. Canada's lab will house strains of live virus in liquid nitrogen. Lethal bugs that cause Ebola and Lassa fever will be isolated and grown in tissue culture.

One of the goals is to unlock the viral genetic material and uncover why they are such killers.

Other organisms may be investigated, like a new mysterious Malaysian virus that jumped from pigs to human beings, causing illness in both species.

For the first time, Canadian scientists will now be able to join the world wide fight against these bugs.

These are only practice drills. Before researchers can begin their work, the highest level of security must be in place.

Lee Thompson
Level four laboratories are the... the pinnacle of bio-containment. Entering into a biosafety level four laboratory is a... is a culmination of a number of steps.

Initially, you... you enter into a... a what is called an entry-change room, or a clean change room. At that point, you remove all your clothing, your jewelry... anything that, as we say, if you weren't born with it, you don't bring it past that point. You put on laboratory designated clothing, as a... as a first barrier. You then proceed into what is called a "suit" room.

Jay Ingram
If you inhale these organisms or they touch your skin, you risk infection. This biohazard suit is the first line of defense... it's completely air tight. Before putting it on, workers blow it up and test it for leaks. The yellow coil connects to an air supply source inside the lab. If a suit tears in the lab, air pressure will blow contaminated particles outside, instead of into the suit.

The lab worker must pass through two sealed submarine doors before entering the lab area. This ritual is a constant reminder of the serious work ahead.

Dr. Heinz Feldman
Putting on a suit... his takes... this takes... uh... let's say, almost 10 minutes to get to your working place and tells you every time that now something special is coming on, and you have to be more careful and be mentally prepared for that.

It's quite tough, and then when you actually hook up to the air system, um... it's hard to describe but you... you feel like that you can... entirely dependant on... on... on the technical support... you know... you... you think what happens if the air system fails... if you cannot find a hookup for a new air.

Jay Ingram
With thoughts like that, it's essential that workers have confidence in their environment. People responsible for safety say the building is up to the challenge.

Lee Thompson
If we lost power to the building... we have emergency backup power, but what happens if we lost that emergency backup power? The building is designed with the bioseal dampers in place... that seal up tight, like a box.

Windows are bullet proof, because of... uh potential... uh... threats... from someone who wants to do damage to this laboratory.

Jay Ingram
Even the air in the lab is changed 20 times a day, and is filtered through a high tech system on the floor above, which removes particles 85 time smaller than the smallest know virus.

Sewage or anything that's poured down the drain, will be filtered and decontaminated in these 5000 litre tanks in the bowels of the building. This system is the final line of defense between the lab and the outside world.

Lee Thompson
Everything that comes into the laboratory is decontaminated, or is sterilized in some way, before it leaves.

Jay Ingram
That includes the people who have had close contact with the deadly bugs. Lysol showers ensure that Ebola and the other killers are destroyed, before the researchers rejoin the rest of the world.

It's all just practice so far, but soon the call will come... the report of the next outbreak... and Canadians are ready.

Dr. Harvey Artsob
... and it's a certainty... uh... that there are going to be outbreaks in the future. But what is less certain is how... or whether Canadians are going to get infected with a level four... but we want to have the lab ready in case they are...