Beyond masks and gloves—here’s how the pros handle dangerous microbes

In ‘high containment’ laboratory facilities, scientists use precision equipment—and great care—to analyse pathogens like the coronavirus.

By Tamas Vitray, Jr.
Photographs By Laszlo Vegh
Published 2 Sept 2020, 06:07 BST
This laboratory work space is photographed through a technician’s face shield and past its respirator mask ...
This laboratory work space is photographed through a technician’s face shield and past its respirator mask valve.
Photograph by LASZLO VEGH
This story appears in the September 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Laboratories like this “high containment” facility are used to safely handle infectious agents. Whether detecting pathogens and diagnosing diseases or unravelling the molecular structure of microbes, scientists use specialised tools with great care. This lab, at the Szentágothai Research Center at Hungary’s University of Pécs, is rated at a high biosafety level, meaning that transmission of microbes handled here can cause serious or deadly disease. This work space is photographed through a technician’s face shield and past its respirator mask valve.

Scientists working with infectious agents may wear airtight “positive pressure” suits designed to prevent contamination from penetrating the suit and reaching the wearer, even if the suit becomes damaged.
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