JAPAN has imported EBOLA to prevent a deadly outbreak and also safeguard against a bioterror attack during the 2020 Olympics.
Last month, the Asian country obtained the infectious virus along with four other fatal pathogens in preparation for next summer’s event.
This is the first time ever viruses rated biosafety-level-4 (BSL-4) – the most dangerous rating – have been allowed to enter Japan.
The country will be storing the pathogens at the Japanese National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), the only facility able to operate at that level.
According to reports, the other killer bugs are Marburg virus, Lassa virus, the viruses that cause South American haemorrhagic fever and Crimean–Congo haemorrhagic fever.
Researchers will use the pathogens to validate tests under development.
Experts within the science community have welcomed the move as it will boost Japan’s ability to handle infectious diseases, Nature.com.
BIO ATTACK PREVENTION
It will also help authorities prepare against the threat of a bioterror attack during the Olympics.
Masayuki Saijo, director of the NIID department said: "This is a landmark time, a landmark event.”
However, not everyone is happy.
Built in 1981, the NIID’s laboratory in Musashimurayama, Tokyo, has never operated at a BSL-4 level before because of opposition from locals.
Some residents have told Japanese media that authorities are using the Olympics as a pretext to import the killer viruses.
Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and biosecurity specialist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, says storing the viruses increases the risk of an accidental or deliberate release.
Yet, Elke Mühlberger, a microbiologist at Boston University, has praised the move highlighting the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
She said: “A report of an Ebola virus infection during the Olympics could have devastating consequences if the emergency responses were not professional.”
What is Ebola?
- The Ebola virus disease – previously called Ebola haemorrhagic fever – is a viral infection that occurs in humans and primates.
- The virus is part of the Filoviridae family, which also includes Marburg virus.
- It was first detected in regions close to the River Ebola, which gave the disease its name.
- To date, scientists have identified five strains of Ebola – four of which are known to cause disease in humans.
- The natural reservoir – or host of the virus – is thought to be the fruit bat.
- Non-human primates are a secondary host, and like humans develop fatal symptoms, so are unlikely to be the reservoir.
- In spite of the epidemic that swept West Africa from 2013, scientists class Ebola as a virus that has a relatively low infection rate.
- During that, the most recent and widespread outbreak, one Ebola patient would typically pass the disease on to another two people.
- That is compared with a disease like measles where one case can often lead to 18 new infections.
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