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Animal & Zoonotic Diseases Institutional Research Theme


The BSL-3 Laboratory



The BSL-3 (biosafety level 3) laboratory makes it possible to grow live viruses, characterize them and use them for example in preparing immunological reagents for use in diagnosis at different stages of the progression of disease.

The BSL-3 laboratory that was acquired was pre-constructed in shipping containers by Germfree Inc in the USA. It was shipped by sea and road freight and erected in 2011 on the Prinshof Campus of the Medical School where it forms part of the Zoonoses Research Unit in the Medical Virology Department in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

The laboratory has a sophisticated ventilation system, with air pressure in the various rooms being maintained in a negative cascade towards each other, so that when doors are opened air leaks towards the room where the most dangerous procedures are performed. Both inlet and exhaust air is passed through highly efficient filters to prevent accidental escape of dangerous infectious agents into the environment. Moreover, work with the agents is performed inside safety cabinets which themselves have a filtered air supply to prevent escape of infectious agents into the atmosphere. 

The workers wear protective clothing such as gloves, gowns and battery driven positive pressure respirators which blow filtered air into a hood worn over the head to prevent any possible accidental inhalation of infectious organisms. Effluent from the drains of such laboratories is treated with heat and/or disinfectant to render it safe, and all solid waste is autoclaved before removal.


The BSL-3 laboratory will play an important role in several IRT associated projects and programs in three different Faculties. It staffed by members of the Zoonoses Research Unit headed by Prof Marietjie Venter. Recent appointments that provide further support for the laboratory include Professor Robert Swanepoel, former Head of the Special Pathogens Unit and the W.H.O. Collaborative Centre for Viral Haemorrhagic Fever and Arthropod-borne Viruses at NICD. and Dr Leo Braack, a veterinary entomologist.