Legionnaires’ Bacteria at GSK

GlaxoSmithKline temporarily shuts down a manufacturing plant in North Carolina after Legionella bacteria are detected in two external cooling towers.

Aug 14, 2015
Jef Akst

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Legionella pneumophila bacteriaWIKIMEDIA, CDCOn Tuesday (August 11), pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) closed down a manufacturing plant in Zebulon, North Carolina, and sent employees home after the bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease were discovered in a cooling tower. The pathogen was subsequently found in a second cooling tower. But after concluding that the contamination posed no risk to its employees or products, the pharma company announced it would reopen by the weekend, after both towers have been cleaned.

“Given the location and level of bacteria found, this situation posed no risk to the products manufactured inside the building,” a GSK spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal yesterday (August 13). “We anticipate resuming production in the next 72 hours after cleaning, disinfecting, and returning the plant back to normal operating conditions.”

Separately, company spokesperson Jenni Ligday told FiercePharma that all drugs produced in the facility before the contamination was discovered are fine to use. “The cooling towers are external units with no contact with product or employees. Our products are safe and effective when used as prescribed.”

This marks the second widely reported discovery of Legionella in cooling towers this year. Since July, New York City health authorities have identified the bacterium in five cooling towers around the city. Contamination in these towers has sickened more than 110 people, 12 of which have died, The New York Times reported.