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U.S. House Republicans seek CDC documents on anthrax scare

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Republicans asked the Obama administration on Wednesday to provide documents related to last month's anthrax scare at a U.S. lab, where more than 80 people were initially feared to be exposed to the deadly pathogen.

In a series of letters, top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked for the results of several Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lab inspections and audits of potential weaknesses in biosecurity protocols dating back to October 2007.

"How many suspected exposures to select agents and/or toxins have been reported at CDC since October 2007? How many actual exposures have been reported," said the July 9 letter to CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden signed by three Republican panel members including Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan.

The lawmakers, who also requested information from the inspector general of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said they were gathering material for a July 16 hearing of the panel's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Frieden is scheduled to testify.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said the agency has been working closely with the subcommittee and would "respond as quickly and completely as possible" to the requests.

CDC officials say live anthrax may have been transferred from the Atlanta facility to employees in a lower-security lab who were not wearing proper protective gear, raising concerns that they may have been exposed to the deadly pathogen.

No one has shown symptoms. Officials initially believed as many as 84 people could have been exposed and scores have taken antibiotics to ward off infection.

The letters were also signed by subcommittee chairman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and vice chairman Michael Burgess of Texas.

But they bore no signatures from the committee's Democratic members. Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the panel's top Democrat, Representative Henry Waxman of California, said Democrats were not told about the letters until after they were sent.

The letter to Frieden listed 10 questions seeking documents or information by July 10 on a range of issues, including an investigation conducted by a Canadian public health agency, the number of CDC staff approved to access dangerous toxins and pathogens, and how much the agency has spent on the facility.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Peter Cooney, Andrew Hay, Sandra Maler and Mohammad Zargham)

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