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 analyze pathogens like the coronavirus.

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This laboratory work space is photographed through a technician’s face shield and past its respirator mask valve.
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 unraveling the molecular structure of microbes, scientists use specialized 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.

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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.