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Plague-infected mice missing from lab

NEWARK -- Three mice infected with the bacteria responsible for bubonic plague apparently disappeared from a laboratory about two weeks ago, and authorities launched a search although health specialists said there was scant public risk.

The mice were unaccounted for at the Public Health Research Institute, which is on the campus of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and conducts bioterrorism research for the federal government.

Federal officials said the mice may never be accounted for. Among other scenarios, the rodents may have been stolen, eaten by other lab animals, or misplaced because of a paperwork error.

If the mice got outside the lab, they would have already died from the disease, state Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs said.

The possibility of theft prompted the institute to interrogate two dozen of its employees and conduct lie detector tests, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported yesterday.

The FBI said it was investigating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also investigating, the newspaper reported.

University officials did not return a call seeking comment late yesterday.

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