JAN. 15–LUBBOCK, Texas–The FBI says that vials containing samples of lethal plague reported missing from Texas Tech University had been located.
“We have accounted for all those missing vials and we have determined that there is no danger to public safety whatsoever,” FBI Agent Lupe Gonzalez told The Associated Press.
He said the vials, about 30 in all, were recovered Wednesday but gave few details. He wouldn’t disclose whether they were stolen or merely misplaced, but said a criminal investigation was continuing.
A statement from the university earlier Wednesday had said the vials of plague, being used in a study to improve treatment of plague victims, were reported missing to campus police Tuesday.
The school said the research was being conducted by Dr. Thomas Butler, chief of its infection disease division, who has been studying the plague for more than 25 years. It said officials had thought it was “prudent” to get law enforcement involved because of current concerns about bioterrorism.
In Washington, FBI officials confirmed that they were contacted Tuesday night and dispatched agents to Lubbock to assist local authorities. The CDC also took part in the investigation.
Health officials say 10 to 20 people in the United States contract plague each year. It can be treated with antibiotics, but about one in seven U.S. cases is fatal.
The most infamous plague outbreak, Europe’s Black Death, started in 1347, killing 25 million people in Europe and 13 million in the Middle East and China within five years.
Plague — along with anthrax, smallpox and a handful of other deadly agents — is on a short watch list distributed by the federal government, which wants to make sure doctors and hospitals recognize a bioterror attack quickly.
But plague’s symptoms can be difficult to spot, as it can resemble the flu.
The form of the disease called bubonic plague is not contagious. But left untreated, it can transform into pneumonic plague, a more dangerous disease that can be spread from person to person.