Video: Dangerous viruses

msnbc.com
updated 9/23/2005 11:27:02 AM ET 2005-09-23T15:27:02

While most of Galveston has evacuated, there is one man who will stay put to keep an eye on a lab that holds some of the most lethal viruses in existence.

Michael Holbrook, director of the Shope Biosafety Lab 4, plans to stick out the storm, along with some guards, to make sure that six of the world's most deadly viruses stay contained in the facility.

He joined MSNBC's Rita Cosby on Thursday to discuss his lab, and his plan to keep himself and the surrounding area safe from what it holds.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

RITA COSBY: Michael, tell us -- I know you can't tell us what kind of viruses, but when you think about six of the world's most deadly viruses, this is a scary thought.

MICHAEL HOLBROOK, DIR., SHOPE BSL-4 LABORATORY:  Yes, it's a bit scary ... but we have everything locked up pretty safely, so it's not much of a real concern.

COSBY:  You're very calm for a man who takes control of some pretty serious stuff. ... I know you can't tell me what, but what kinds of viruses could be in some of the deadliest in the world?

HOLBROOK:  A lot of the ones we have are hemorrhagic fever viruses.  We have some virus that cause encephalitis.  Most of the things we have are arboviruses.  They're transmitted by either mosquitoes or ticks.

COSBY:  These are level 4, considered very highly toxic ... very deadly.  How do you guard them?

HOLBROOK:  Well, now, we don't really guard them so much.  We have a number of levels of security that were built into the building, and they always in place.  And starting Monday, we started our hurricane preparedness plan, and then we basically cleaned up the lab, locked everything in a freezer and fumigated the lab and decontaminated the whole thing.  And it's been that way for about the past 12 hours or so.  And so everything's basically locked in freezers behind several layers of the security.

COSBY:  Maximum, maximum security, I would imagine. ... How many guards?  I know you've got a couple of guards who actually came with you here, but how many guards just around the facility?

HOLBROOK:  Well, they have about 75 on campus, and they sort of alternate.  We have a number that patrol the building on a regular basis.  But everything's very electronically controlled, and it's a pretty tight ship.

COSBY:  And you know, the average American, when you hear something like that, it is quite scary.  You know, the first thing we worry about, is something going to happen to one of the nuclear plants?  Is something going to happen to ... a virus. Especially in light of the day and age that we're living in, unfortunately, with terrorism.  How often do you have to go to sort of this state of alert?

HOLBROOK:  Not very often. ... Hurricanes really are our biggest threat down here.  We don't really have any other serious problems, so we try not to have to shut down the lab very often, but this is one of those situations where we have to do that.

Watch 'Rita Cosby Live & Direct' each night at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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