- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

DALLAS The FBI announced yesterday afternoon, after a few tense hours, that more than two dozen vials of lethal plague samples thought to have been missing from a Texas Tech University laboratory in Lubbock had been found.

"We have accounted for all those missing vials and we have determined that there is no danger to public safety whatsoever," said Guadalupe Gonzalez, the FBI's special agent in charge in Dallas.

It was not disclosed whether the vials were misplaced or had been stolen. Mr. Gonzalez said a criminal investigation was under way.

School officials said about 30 vials of plague were missing when a routine count was conducted Tuesday. Lubbock City Councilman Frank Morrison said emergency officials told him that 35 were missing.

Campus police were informed, and then the FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were notified. By early yesterday morning, a team of specialists was formed in the West Texas city.

Tech officials said Dr. Thomas Butler, chief of the infectious disease section of its Health Sciences Center, had been conducting research for several years on ways to improve treatment for those infected by bubonic plague bacteria.

Fewer than two dozen Americans contract the plague annually, health officials say. Several antibiotics are effective, but about one in seven cases result in death, usually because the infection is not diagnosed in time. Symptoms resemble those of flu or pneumonia.

The CDC said bubonic plague is not contagious, but if left untreated can move into a pneumonialike disease that is far more dangerous.

Dr. Kathleen Delaney of the University of Texas Health Science Center said terrorists would be unlikely to use this type of bacteria in a biological attack.

"The kind of plague the bioterrorists might choose to use would be one that you'd inhale and one that causes pneumonia, not the lymph infections seen in the natural illness," she said.

The most infamous outbreak of plague occurred in a five- to six-year period beginning in 1347 when nearly 40 million people died in Europe and Asia. The pandemic was known as the "Black Death."

Dr. David Smith, Texas Tech University chancellor, said the threat would be minimal even if the bacteria were used in a biological attack.

"They were not in powder form," said Dr. Smith, "and were not, of course, weaponized in the sense that they were not developed to be resistant to certain kinds of antibiotics. This region has a lot of supply of those antibiotics as well as Texas and the nation."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide