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The island with the most deadly viruses in the world

The ‘Alcatraz of viruses’. His name is Riems; It is a small island that is located in Germany and, at the same time, one of the most dangerous places on the planet.

On a small Baltic Sea island once used for biological weapons research by the Nazis , German scientists are now developing potentially life-saving vaccines against viruses.

The Friederich Loeffler Institute’s list of pathogens is very long: rabies, African swine fever, Crimean-Congo virus, avian flu, mad cow disease, Ebola, influenza, Yersinia pestis, Rift Valley fever, Sars-CoV- 2… it is such a dangerous place that, apart from being closed to the public, to access the island, previously authorized visitors must first cross a small stretch of the Baltic Sea via a bridge. This measure is due to the fact that, in the event of an outbreak in the high-security facilities, there is the possibility of closing them and preventing the virus from spreading abroad.

For this reason, this place has come to be known as the “island of plagues” or “plague island”, although it is officially the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI) located on the island of Riems, in the far north of Germany. , near the city of Greifswald. It is a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory.

A very restricted and strict place

One of the peculiarities of this laboratory is that the Federal Institute of Animal Health tests here the most dangerous viruses in the world in large animals : dozens of animals, including sheep and cows, are deliberately infected with viruses as part of research to monitor the effects of diseases. In fact, one of its approaches is based on zoonoses, that is, those diseases that have the possibility of “jumping” or being transmitted from animals to humans or vice versa.

And it is that, from malaria to rabies, zoonoses account for about 60% of all infectious diseases contracted by humans , and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that “3 out of 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people are transmitted through animals. But the most striking thing about them is that they are unpredictable.

Staff Security

And all its workers, the scientists who habitually experiment and investigate, have disinfectant showers both to enter and leave the island, apart from wearing protective clothing in accordance with a pandemic such as the one that has accompanied us for more than two years with the COVID-19.

This facility is one of only three laboratories of its kind in the world, and the only one to be found in Europe. The only other two facilities in the world where this type of animal research is possible are in Winnipeg, Canada, and Geelong, Australia.

The building is totally isolated from the outside world, packed with numerous airlocks, and kept under negative pressure to ensure air flows in, not out. Everything is done under highly secure conditions and researchers work daily to understand how new pathogens spread and also to develop vaccines.

The Friedrich Loeffler Institute is the oldest virus study center in the world. It was founded in 1910 by Friederich Loeffler, a German bacteriologist at the University of Greifswald who discovered the organism that causes diphtheria.

Friedrich Loeffler Institute / W Wittmann. The legacy of Friedrich Loeffler–the Institute on the Isle of Riems . Arch Virol Suppl. 1999;15:25-42. doi: 10.1007/978-3-7091-6425-9_3.

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