Utilize lethal pathogens under strict control to contain infectious diseases

The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is important to take relevant measures in anticipation of the occurrence of a dangerous infectious disease within the country.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases have decided on a plan to import, for the first time, live pathogens, including the highly lethal Ebola virus that causes hemorrhagic fever. In the event of a patient with such a disease being identified in Japan, the institute’s branch facility in Musashi-murayama, western Tokyo, will be used for testing.

Due to such factors as an increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan, the risk of a new type of infectious disease entering the country has risen. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are set to be held next summer. The reinforcement of measures against infectious diseases is considered a pressing task.

Five types of pathogens are planned to be imported, including those that cause Ebola, South American hemorrhagic fever and Lassa fever. The fatality rate is as high as 90 percent for these diseases.

To use living pathogens in testing is to increase the accuracy of results. For instance, mixing pathogens kept at the facility with a patient’s blood components will make it possible to assess whether the patient is no longer at risk of infecting others, depending on how the pathogens would react with the blood, thus enabling a determination of the degree of recovery of the patient.

It is important for the pathogens to be utilized for a prompt and more accurate diagnosis and treatment of a patient.

The institute’s facility meets the requirements of Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4), the highest international safety standard set for the handling of dangerous pathogens. The testing of having the pathogens react with a patient’s blood is to be conducted in a sealed, box-shaped apparatus, while the testing room is so structured as to prevent the air inside from leaking out, according to the institute.

Explain to residents

As long as dangerous pathogens are to be handled, it is only right and proper for them to be placed under strict control.

It is also essential to take measures against bioterrorism aimed at proliferating pathogens.

Strictly confirming the identity of researchers and checking the entry and exit of people with around-the-clock surveillance cameras are necessary. Security should be taken thoroughly so as to prevent terrorists from taking the pathogens out of the facility.

As the facility is located in a densely populated residential area, there are more than a few local residents worried about safety. Although the facility itself was completed in 1981, it has never handled any pathogens of extreme danger due to opposition from local residents wary of incidents.

The institute has held meetings with local residents to explain the safety of the facility at least 10 times since last winter and won general consent. Even from now, it is necessary to deepen the relationship of trust with local residents by conducting similar meetings repeatedly.

In the event of the occurrence of such an infectious disease within the country, close cooperation among hospitals, public health centers in local communities and transportation systems will hold the key to preventing the disease from spreading. With the health ministry taking the leading role, communications among organizations concerned must be promoted even at ordinary times.

With regard to hazardous infectious diseases, there are also plenty of incomprehensible areas. At Nagasaki University, the construction of a BSL-4 facility as a research base is underway. Elucidating the characteristics of pathogens should be advanced to find treatment methods.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 11, 2019)Speech


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