Rapid deployment of a mobile biosafety level-3 laboratory in Sierra Leone during the 2014 Ebola virus epidemic

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2017 May 15;11(5):e0005622. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0005622. eCollection 2017 May.


Background: Ebola virus emerged in West Africa in December 2013. The high population mobility and poor public health infrastructure in this region led to the development of the largest Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak to date.

Methodology/principal findings: On September 26, 2014, China dispatched a Mobile Biosafety Level-3 Laboratory (MBSL-3 Lab) and a well-trained diagnostic team to Sierra Leone to assist in EVD diagnosis using quantitative real-time PCR, which allowed the diagnosis of suspected EVD cases in less than 4 hours from the time of sample receiving. This laboratory was composed of three container vehicles equipped with advanced ventilation system, communication system, electricity and gas supply system. We strictly applied multiple safety precautions to reduce exposure risks. Personnel, materials, water and air flow management were the key elements of the biosafety measures in the MBSL-3 Lab. Air samples were regularly collected from the MBSL-3 Lab, but no evidence of Ebola virus infectious aerosols was detected. Potentially contaminated objects were also tested by collecting swabs. On one occasion, a pipette tested positive for EVD. A total of 1,635 suspected EVD cases (824 positive [50.4%]) were tested from September 28 to November 11, 2014, and no member of the diagnostic team was infected with Ebola virus or other pathogens, including Lassa fever. The specimens tested included blood (69.2%) and oral swabs (30.8%) with positivity rates of 54.2% and 41.9%, respectively. The China mobile laboratory was thus instrumental in the EVD outbreak response by providing timely and reliable diagnostics.

Conclusions/significance: The MBSL-3 Lab significantly contributed to establishing a suitable laboratory response capacity during the emergence of EVD in Sierra Leone.

MeSH terms

  • Containment of Biohazards*
  • Ebolavirus
  • Epidemics
  • Facility Design and Construction / standards*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / diagnosis*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Laboratories / organization & administration
  • Laboratories / standards*
  • RNA, Viral / analysis
  • Safety / standards*
  • Sierra Leone / epidemiology
  • Workflow


  • RNA, Viral

Grant support

This work was funded by the National Key Technology R&D Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology (No. 1061400100275) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No.31502077 and No.31402221). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.