TAMPA, Fla. -- The University of South Florida has suspended four West Nile Virus projects due to a failure to handle protocol and sanitation rules, according to a watchdog group.

A report to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee said that on Aug, 7, 2016, eight gerbils were injected with Brugia malayi larvae. The next day four of the gerbils were dead, and four others were near death and then were euthanized. A review found that the samples might have been contaminated.

Click here to read USF letters in the case

This is a statement from USF:

"During a routine self-inspection in October 2016, a University of South Florida veterinarian discovered possible noncompliance with the protocols of one researcher’s West Nile projects that involved eight birds.  Following the university’s standard procedure, the matter was self-reported to the appropriate USF oversight committee and federal agencies.  After a review of the circumstances, it was determined that there was deviation from the research protocol.  As a result, a total of four West Nile projects being conducted by the same researcher at one facility were temporarily suspended.  In January 2017, the federal agencies notified USF that they have accepted the corrective steps put in place by the university and consider the matter closed.  West Nile studies have now resumed.    

"As an institution, USF believes in the respectful and ethical treatment of animals in research projects.  The university has a vigorous review and training process.  USF will continue to abide by all state and federal laws and guidelines."

SAEN, a nongovernmental watchdog group that monitors the nation's research facilities for wrongdoing,  found the information in government records.