When University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers set out to study Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, they faced a daunting challenge.
The deadly virus requires biosafety level 4 containment, and it's carried by ticks. That meant that if scientists wanted to study the transmission of the virus, they had to do something that had never been done before: find a way to work safely with the tiny, tough bugs in a maximum containment "spacesuit lab."
"It was completely new territory for us," said UTMB assistant professor Dennis Bente, senior author of a paper describing the BSL4 tick work in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. "Ticks are very small, and in the BSL4 you have two pairs of gloves on, you have this bulky suit, you have the plastic visor -- all these things are a huge handicap. So how do you make sure you contain them?"
The answer: step by painstaking step.
Among other things, the new system will enable the researchers to study the virus' transmission by a variety of tick species. On the list are North American ticks, to investigate the possibility that Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, like West Nile virus, could be introduced into the United States.