Missing lab mice infected with plague

September 15, 2005

The FBI and New Jersey officials have started a hushed but intensive search for three missing lab mice reportedly infected with deadly strains of plague.

The mice were discovered missing from separate cages at a bioterrorism research facility in Newark more than two weeks ago, but the incident was only confirmed Wednesday by the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger.

The research lab, located at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, is operated by the Public Health Research Institute, a center for infectious disease research.

The mice reportedly were infected with the bacterium Yersinia pestis that causes bubonic and other forms of plague.

Scientists, however, said with modern antibiotics, plague can be treated if quickly diagnosed and is not the scourge that wiped out a third of Europe during the 14th century.

Richard Ebright, a Rutgers University microbiologist and a critic of the government's rapid expansion of bio-terrorism labs, said federal guidelines call for only minimal security at such laboratories -- a lock on the lab door and a lock on the sample container and cage.

"You have more security at a McDonald's than at some of these facilities," Ebright told the newspaper.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

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