The Biosafety Level of Ebola - dummies

By Edward K. Chapnick

All disease-causing organisms are classified in one of four levels of biological safety levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed and administer the levels to make sure that scientists who are studying these organisms know how dangerous they are and how to protect themselves against infection. Each level has protocols for categorizing and safely handling and storing the organisms.

Level 1 (BSL-1) indicates the most innocuous and benign of organisms. Level 4 is the most dangerous. Ebola is at BSL-4.

Currently, seven operational labs in the United States are designated BSL-4 and can therefore do Ebola research. They are as follows:

  • CDC in Atlanta, Georgia (two labs are located there)

  • Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (University of Texas Medical Branch) in Galveston, Texas

  • Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas

  • U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (Department of Defense) in Frederick, Maryland

  • Rocky Mountain Laboratories Integrated Research Facility (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) in Hamilton, Montana

Six more are under construction or planned. They include

  • Integrated Research Facility (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) in Fort Detrick, Maryland

  • Galveston National Laboratory (University of Texas Medical Branch) in Galveston, Texas

  • National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (Department of Homeland Security) in Frederick, Maryland

  • National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (Department of Homeland Security) in Manhattan, Kansas

  • National Biocontainment Laboratory (Boston University) in Boston, Massachusetts

  • Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (Department of General Services of the Commonwealth of Virginia) in Richmond, Virginia

This figure gives you an idea of just how much gear scientists need to wear when studying the world’s most dangerous viruses.

[Credit: CDC Public Health Image Library]
Credit: CDC Public Health Image Library