The most dangerous island in Germany is “a kind of prison for viruses”

It is known as the most dangerous island in Germany: Riems, in the Baltic Sea, shelters for more than a century an institute of research on the animal viruses potentially lethal for the humans.

“An Alcatraz of viruses”

On this little piece of land south of the very touristy island of Ruegen, scientists study pathogens such as rabies, the African swine fever, the Crimean-Congo virus or Ebola, by testing their effects on large animals such as pigs and cows, with the hope of developing a vaccine. ” We are really an Alcatraz of viruses, finally a sort of prison for viruses Said Franz Conraths, vice president of the Friedrich Loeffler Institute for Epidemiology (FLI).

Access to the island is regulated, prior authorization is essential and numerous security checks. Labs containing dangerous viruses and stables are placed at security level 4, the highest. The scientists who work there go through disinfecting showers at the entrance and exit, and have to put on a special protective suit. ” We do everything we can to ensure that (viruses) don’t go outside ” from the island, ” it is very important for our work “, Specifies the researcher.

The oldest in the world

No installation of this style exists elsewhere in Europe. You have to go to Winnipeg in Canada or Geelong in Australia to find similar equipment. It is also the oldest research center in virology in the world, created in 1910 by a pioneer in this field, the German Friedrich Loeffler.. Formerly concentrated in a building, the institute now occupies almost the entire small island of almost 1.3 km long, connected to the mainland in the early 1970s by a dike.

Under the Nazi regime (1933-1945), research on biological weapons was carried out, before the center concentrated on the development of vaccines from the time of Communist East Germany (1949-1990) . At the time, about 800 people worked there.

The state has invested some 300 million euros from 2008 to modernize the infrastructure, which now has 89 laboratories with different levels of security and 163 stables.

10,000 animals

There are over 10,000 animals on the island, mosquitoes to mice and fish. And in quarantine stables, there are especially 80 to 100 large animals: cows, sheep, goats, alpacas or wild boars. ” We do everything we can to conduct our analyzes without having to do animal tests Says Martin Beer, who runs the island’s diagnostic institute. But ” the pathogenesis, namely why the animal is sick, how the disease develops, how it reacts, I can only measure it by instilling the infection in an animal “He says.

Too sick animals are euthanasias, no question of letting them suffer until the end. If such tests make it possible to develop a vaccine that will save millions of animals, so ” tests are justified “, He believes.

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