GSK says products unaffected by Legionella bacteria found in plant cooling towers

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) expects to miss another couple of days of production at a plant in Zebulon, NC, while it disinfects cooling towers where the bacteria for Legionnaires' disease was detected. But the company said late Wednesday that the products were unaffected by the episode and that the 800 employees or so who have been biding their time since the plant was cleared Tuesday will be recalled once the facility returns to normal operating conditions.

Spokeswoman Jenni Ligday said in an email late Wednesday that given the location of the two cooling towers in which the Legionella bacteria was found during routine testing, there was never a risk to products or people in the facility. "The cooling towers are external units with no contact with product or employees. Our products are safe and effective when used as prescribed," Ligday said.

But since the plant requires operating cooling towers to keep the temperature and humidity within limits for manufacturing, GSK closed up shop on Tuesday and sent employees home. Once the towers are cleaned and disinfected they will again be tested to assure they are free of the bacteria before employees return.

The site in Zebulon is a key facility in the U.S. for the drugmaker. It manufactures a wide range of products including blockbuster Advair and Ellipta inhaler products. In tablet form it also makes Imitrex, Epivir, Combivir, Wellbutrin SR/Zyban, Zofran, Valtrex, Trizivir, Zovirax, Lamictal Tafinlar, Mekinist as well as Tivicay and Triumeq, two popular HIV drugs.

Legionnaires' disease has been in the news since an outbreak in New York that has infected 113 people since July 10, 12 of whom have died. According to The New York Times. Officials there think a refurbished hotel may be the original site of the outbreak, but it has been found in other cooling towers and officials there last week ordered every building with a cooling tower to test for the bacteria within two weeks.

- read the New York Times story (sub. req.)