VIDEO. How the staff of the only French civilian P4 laboratory equip themselves to work in contact with highly pathogenic viruses

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The scientists and technicians of this highly secure lab work alongside a daily bestiary of formidable viruses such as Ebola, Lassa, Marburg, Nipah, Hendra, Machupo… Extract from the magazine “1:15 p.m. on Sunday” of April 24, 2022.

There are about sixty P4 laboratories in the world. These are high-security units exclusively dedicated to research on class 4 pathogens, characterized by their very high level of danger. Three are active in France, two of which are for military use. The only French civilian P4 is in Lyon. And those who enter this viral pantheon protect themselves by slipping into impeccable outfits.

“I’m going to test my suit which is personal, adapted to my morphology and my shoe size. It’s tailor-made”, explains a technician to the magazine “1:15 p.m. on Sunday” (replay). He checks the tightness of his bibendum suit by inflating it and then running his lips over its surface to feel the slightest trickle of air that might escape. Meticulous work: “I watch him for about ten seconds to see if he sags or not. It’s good, he’s OK.”

The slightest mistake can be fatal

The positive pressure suit can then be put on. If it tears, the air comes out of it rather than coming in, thus avoiding contamination that can be fatal in such an environment. Each spacesuit is supplied with healthy air by hookahs. The only tool linking Stéphane to the rest of the world is the helmet he wears all the time. And cameras will not take their eyes off him from the other side of the airlock he has just passed through.

You have to be methodical and meticulous to work in a P4 lab, because the slightest mistake can be fatal: “Even if we are in the laboratory and we work with spacesuits, I equip myself with a third pair of gloves as soon as we handle infectious samples.” Like the Ebola, Lassa, Marburg, Nipah, Hendra, Machupo viruses… A frightening viral world tour made behind glass 2.5 centimeters thick…

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