Secrets of Germany’s ‘Alcatraz’ virus island revealed

On a Baltic Sea island once used by the Nazis for biological weapon research, German scientists are developing virus vaccines that could save lives.
Access to the island of Riems is highly restricted. Scientists who work there have to have disinfectant showers when entering or exiting and wear body suits.
And dozens of animals, including sheep and cows, have been deliberately infected with viruses as part of the research to monitor the effects of the diseases.
“We really are the Alcatraz of viruses, a kind of prison for viruses,” Franz Conraths, deputy head of the island’s Friedrich Loeffler Institute, said.
Located south of picturesque Ruegen Island, Riems has become a global centre for the study of pathogens such as rabies, African swine fever and Ebola.
Visitors have to undergo security controls and the laboratories holding the most dangerous viruses as well as the stables with the infected animals are on security level 4 — the highest in Germany.
“We do everything possible to ensure they do not spread,” Conraths said of the viruses on his island. “It’s very important for our work.”
The Friedrich Loeffler Institute is the oldest centre for the study of viruses in the world. It was founded in 1910 by Loeffler, a pioneering German scientists.
There is no installation like it in Europe, although there are similar facilities in Australia and Canada.
The institute used to be based in a single building on the island but has now expanded and covers almost the entirety of the 1.3-kilometre long outcrop.
After World War II, the centre found itself in communist East Germany and began to develop vaccines. — AFP