Senate panel expands meningitis probe as illness spreads

On Thursday, members of the HELP Committee wrote to the NECC, the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy and the Food and Drug Administration seeking records that will reveal "how the outbreak occurred and what warning signs may have existed."

The senators noted that 14,000 patients may have been exposed to the deadly fungus since May. More than 300 have been sickened and 24 have died.

House lawmakers are pushing hard for more details from the NECC. Earlier in the week, leaders with the House Energy and Commerce Committee complained that no one affiliated or formally affiliated with the company had agreed to brief committee staff.

Those lawmakers expressed specific interest in code violations by the NECC that may have foreshadowed the fungal contamination behind the meningitis outbreak.

"On December 4, 2006, the FDA sent the NECC a warning letter detailing significant violations of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act witnessed by the investigators," lawmakers wrote to an NECC lawyer, Paul Cirel.

"Included in the list of violations was the NECC's manipulation of a sterile injectable product, which caused the FDA to be 'especially concerned about potential microbial contamination,' " the leaders wrote.