• Question: Is it dangerous working with a virus? Eg, any protection needed?

    Asked by chloestark to Pamela, Cat, Daz, Holly, Johnson on 21 Jun 2011. This question was also asked by fayesedg, macnaberz.
    • Photo: Holly Shelton

      Holly Shelton answered on 16 Jun 2011:

      Yes it can be dangerous to work with a virus as you can catch viruses through many differnt ways (through your blood or through breathing them in). So yes we do use protection. With viruses you usually use them inside a cabinet that keeps the airflow away from you therefore preventing viruses you can catch through breathing them in from getting to you. We also wear gloves all the time (often in really cool colours, we have blue ones, green ones, purple ones and grey ones in our lab). We also wear lab coats (not all of them are white). If we are dealing with a virus where we can’t use a protective cabinet then we might use a face mask with filters so the virus can’t get into our air that we are breathing but this is not very often. In my lab we work with flu so we all have to have a vaccination against human flu before we can’t start work as part of our protection also.

      Thanks for the question


    • Photo: Pamela Lithgow

      Pamela Lithgow answered on 16 Jun 2011:

      Hi Chloestark and fayesedg,
      Holly has covered a lot of the protection which is needed when you work with viruses. If you have to use these protective measures depends on the virus. The worse the virus is the more protection you need to use.
      I work on a virus of pigs which can not infect humans so I don’t have to take measures to stop myself from getting it. However, pigs in the UK don’t have the virus I am working on so I do have to be really careful to not release the virus into the environment where pigs could get it. So I do work in a hood, wear gloves and a gown to stop the virus getting removed from the lab.
      Hope this adds to Holly’s answer.
      Pam 🙂

    • Photo: Cat O'Connor

      Cat O'Connor answered on 16 Jun 2011:

      Hi Chloestark and Fayesedg,

      I think Holly and Pamela gave you great answers. And if you read up on it on the internet, you’ll read some horrible stories of how it can all go wrong. But these happen very very rarely! And if you think about the probably tens of thousands of people (maybe more ?!? ) who work on viruses every day, it must mean that in the most cases people are pretty safe!

      Oh and Holly, i used to wear a red lab coat when I worked in a micro lab!


    • Photo: Darren Braddick

      Darren Braddick answered on 21 Jun 2011:

      Hi Chloestark,

      It can be very dangerous indeed! You must use many forms of protection and be very careful. Of course, the level of danger depends on the virus. I work relatively unprotected with viruses all the time, but they do not affect humans at all and actually infect bacterial cells like E. coli. Some viruses only affect bacteria, some affect plant and some affect certain animals. Most viruses do not affect humans – especially if they do affect other species like other animals.

      Usually thought, if it is a human virus, you may wear complete body protection, or work in a very safe lab! Luckily I do not have to expose myself to this risk in my work, although I do have to work with dangerous bacteria sometimes! To do this, we need a special, separate lab, in which only very dangerous bacteria are used. They cannot be taken out of that lab, and so you can be very limited in what you can do with them…

      I hope that helps!