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Vials of plague are missing

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Authorities on Wednesday were looking into the disappearance of samples of bubonic plague from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

A report was made late Tuesday to the Tech police, and city officials in Lubbock were preparing a statement Wednesday morning, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported on its online edition.

KCBD-TV reported at least 30 vials were unaccounted for and said city officials were not sure if the vials were stolen or merely misplaced.

In Washington, FBI officials confirmed that they were contacted Tuesday night about the missing vials and dispatched agents to Lubbock to assist local authorities.

White House officials have been briefed on the plague reports, said spokesman Ari Fleischer. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also was investigating. No other specifics about the probe were immediately available.

Bubonic plague is an infectious disease of animals and humans caused by a bacterium named Yersinia pestis. People usually get it from being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an infected animal.

Now, the disease can be treated with antibiotics.

But plague outbreaks have killed about 200 million people in the past 1,500 years. The most infamous, Europe's Black Death, started in 1347, killing 25 million people in Europe and 13 million in the Middle East and China within five years.