GlaxoSmithKline PLC temporarily shut down a manufacturing plant in the eastern town of Zebulon, North Carolina, Tuesday after the bacterium that causes the Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia, was found in a stand-alone cooling tower. The plant manufactures inhaled medications and employs about 850 people.
There was no indication that anybody had fallen ill or that the products made at the factory were contaminated by the Legionella bacteria. Employees at the plant were sent home and those scheduled to work were told to stay away from the tower until further notice, the New York Times reported. Local and federal authorities referred inquiries to the London-based pharmaceutical company, while the Food and Drug Administration said it was monitoring the situation. Products manufactured by the plant include Asthma drug Advair and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease drug Breo Ellipta.
"We are trying to gather information on what the situation is," GSK spokeswoman Jenni Brewer Ligday said in statement Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. The company is also trying to gather "more details on whether product has been impacted and, if they have, what is our procedure in place to handle that." Ligday added that a routine testing of the plant is conducted every three months.
The Zebulon site employs over 4,400 people in departments like manufacturing, research and development, and sales and marketing, according to a Reuters report.
Zebulon’s Mayor Robert S. Matheny said, in a statement, according to the Times, that no threat has been advised to the town and that the cooling tower used reclaimed water, which is different from that used for drinking purposes. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services also reportedly said that there have not been any reported cases of the disease linked to the facility.
The Legionnaires' disease, which is often fatal, is contracted by inhaling water vapor or mist infected with the Legionella bacteria. However, the bacteria, which are usually found in warm water and breed in places like hot tubs, cooling towers, water tanks, large plumbing systems and fountains, do not spread from one person to another.
The outbreak of the disease in the Bronx section of New York City has already claimed 12 lives and infected at least 113 people since early July. Health authorities in New York City also believe that the spread was linked to a cooling tower and ordered inspection and cleaning of all cooling towers in the city.