Bubonic Plague Bacteria
Missing From Texas Lab


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About 30 vials that possibly contain samples of the bacteria that causes bubonic plague were reported missing from a lab at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, a law enforcement official said on Wednesday.
The official had few details but said the FBI was trying to determine what had happened to the vials at the Texas facility about 330 miles west of Dallas.
"Apparently there are about 30 missing," he said.
But the official emphasized that the plague believed to be in the vials could not be used as a weapon of mass destruction. The vials could possibly kill one person but not a large group of people, he said.
Plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is usually passed to people from rodents via fleas. It caused huge epidemics in the Middle Ages -- notably the Black Death that wiped out up to a third of the population in Europe.
It can take on three forms -- bubonic plague, which caused the terrifying black swellings or buboes that gave the Black death its name; pneumonic plague, which is far deadlier and caused when the bacteria are inhaled, and septicemic plague, which is a rare blood infection.
Plague is considered a likely bioterrorist agent because it is so easy to prepare and use as a weapon and because it frightens people. It is easily treated with antibiotics, but only if it is diagnosed properly.
There have been some reported cases of it being used. During World War II, a secret branch of the Japanese army is reported to have dropped plague-infected fleas over populated areas of China, causing outbreaks of plague.
The World Health Organization reports 1,000 to 3,000 cases of plague globally every year. In the United States, plague is reported in between 10 and 15 people every year, killing a small percentage.
The last urban plague epidemic was in Los Angeles in 1924 and 1925, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



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