Glaxo: Meds from plant with Legionnaires’ bacteria are safe

ZEBULON, N.C. (AP) – The medications produced at a GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical plant are safe despite the decision to close the factory after the discovery of the bacteria that causes potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease, the company said Wednesday.

The London-based drug maker expects within three days it will reopen the manufacturing plant in Zebulon, about 25 miles east of Raleigh, which makes inhaled medications. The plant was closed Tuesday after routine testing found legionella bacteria in two external cooling towers.

“No employees are sick and no products have been compromised,” spokeswoman Jenni Brewer Ligday wrote in an email. “Medicines were not exposed to the bacteria.”

North Carolina health officials said Wednesday that no cases of Legionnaires’ disease linked to the Glaxo plant have been reported.

People can contract Legionnaires’ disease when they inhale water vapor or mist containing the bacteria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. It does not spread from person to person, the agency said.

GSK said the company shut down production and closed the building because the cooling towers maintain temperature and humidity needed for manufacturing and working conditions. None of the air or water released by the cooling towers “come directly into the building or in contact with any of the products,” Ligday said.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokesman said Wednesday the drug safety regulator was still looking into the details and referred questions to GlaxoSmithKline.

About 600 of the 850 people GSK employs in Zebulon were affected by the building closure, Ligday said.

The plant produces inhaled drugs like Advair, a drug for asthma, and contracts with other pharmaceutical companies to produce their drugs.

Legionella bacteria found in cooling tanks in the Bronx section of New York City caused 12 Legionnaires’ disease deaths this summer.

Most people who are exposed to the bacteria do not become ill, but about 8,000 to 18,000 Americans are hospitalized with the disease annually, the CDC said.

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(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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