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Plague-Infected Mice Missing From N.J.

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Mar 2, 2005
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THIS IS AS BAD AS IT GETS Plague-Infected Mice Missing From N.J. LabOfficials Say the Health Risk to the Public Is Low

Sept. 15, 2005 — The FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating the disappearance from a New Jersey research lab of at least three mice carrying a deadly strain of plague.

The rodents have been missing for two weeks
Sources say FBI agents and bioterrorism experts are interviewing and polygraphing employees at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, N.J., the location of the lab run by the Public Health Research Institute, a leading center for research on infectious diseases.

There are no indications of terrorism.

"The FBI responded to the matter, and we dedicated a great number of agents as well as a large number of resources to the investigation, which is still ongoing," said Special Agent Steve Siegel, a spokesman for the FBI's Newark field office. "We're satisfied that there is no public safety risk and there doesn't seem to be any nexus to criminal activity or terrorism."

New Jersey officials also are downplaying the health risk. They believe the infected mice probably died quickly.

However, some government officials are deeply concerned about what the case says about security of some of the most deadly, infectious disease projects and research labs.

One source admitted that while officials are saying there is minimal health risk, no one can be entirely certain.

ABC News' Pierre Thomas, Richard Esposito and Michael S. James contributed to this report.

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