Saturday, 5 March 2016
NEWS - Tahiti: new biohazard laboratory opened
Friday, 4 March 2016: Tahiti News announces the opening of a new high-biosafety laboratory at the Malardé Institute in Pape'ete.(1)
This is to help deal with the increased risk of infectious diseases that have spread to and from the Pacific region, such as Chikungunya (2), Zika (3) - which was first discovered in Uganda in 1947 (4), dengue (5), H1N1 influenza (6).
An earlier article from FranceTV (7) explains that highly dangerous diseases need to be handled in very safe facilities, which up till now did not exist in French Polynesia. Previously samples would have had to be sent to other laboratories abroad, which cost precious time.
The new lab on Tahiti is equipped to NSB3 containment standard. This is not the highest category - level 4 is for very high risk pathogens such Ebola, Lassa, Marburg etc and "other agents with unknown risks of pathogenicity and transmission" (8).
The top biosafety rating includes germ warfare research facilities such as the UK's Porton Down, listed on Wikipedia (9). One obvious reason why the "space suit" level 4 isn't appropriate for Tahiti is the risk of destructive tropical storms like the Category 5 Cyclone Winston that crashed into Fiji last month, killing 43 people (10). French Polynesia is 2,100 miles further east but is still not immune: in 2010 Cyclone Oli hit Tahiti with gusts up to 120 mph (11), and in 1997 Cyclone Osea wrecked 95% of the infrastructure of Maupiti, 200 miles NW of the main island (12).
So we needn't worry about an Andromeda Strain-type (13) accidental plague weapon release: it's not that kind of operation.
(2) http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/geo/ - very widespread globally
(3) http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/ - also spreading via mosquito in Samoa and Tonga, for example
(5) http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2016/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/dengue - throughout S E Asia and the western Pacific
(6) http://www.gleamviz.org/2009/09/ - spread around the world by air travel in months
(7) http://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/polynesie/tahiti/installation-d-un-laboratoire-de-haute-securite-biologique-l-institut-malarde-197064.html - dateline 9 Oct 2014, updated 25 Feb 2016