Texas A&M under Investigation for Missing Disease Reports

Published: June 30, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas – Last year, Texas A&M failed to report two incidents of exposure to diseases in their bioterrorism lab, provoking a federal investigation that could result in loss of funding.

The Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of Health gave the university millions of dollars to study Brucella and Q fever, two potential “terror agents” in biological warfare. Neither disease is fatal, although the effects – high fevers and flulike symptoms – are difficult to cure. Transmission between humans is rare for Q fever and unheard of for Brucella.

In February 2006, a researcher contracted Brucella during an experiment with mice. Her personal physician diagnosed her that April, but the university did not send a report to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) until a year later.

In April 2006, a health clinic also told A&M three of their researches had tested positive for exposure to Q fever. CDC officials say they never received the Q fever reports at all.

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In the school’s defense, an A&M official says that at the time, the university’s occupational health policy did not require them to report the researchers’ mere exposure to the fever. The policy changed in April 2007, at which point he claims the school reported the event to the CDC.

A&M officials have not given any reason for the delayed Brucella report, although they indicated on it that the information should have been reported immediately.

The federal “Select Agent Rule” demands that pathogen researchers report incidents no more than seven days after their discovery. The Health and Human Services Inspector General determines the punishment for not filing, which could be anything from a fine to a loss of federal funding.

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