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GlaxoSmithKline closes pharmaceutical plant after deadly Legionnaires bacteria found contaminating facility

Legionnaire''s disease

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(NaturalNews) A GlaxoSmithKline facility that manufactures inhaled drugs was shuttered for nearly a week after a cooling tower tested positive for the bacteria that causes the potentially fatal form of pneumonia known as Legionnaire's disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaire's disease in the United States each year. The disease is contracted by inhaling water or mist contaminated with the Legionella bacteria. The bacteria are naturally found in warm water, and they often breed in urban water sources such as hot tubs, water tanks, plumbing systems and fountains.

The disease cannot be passed directly from person to person.

New York institutes emergency measures

The drug factory in question is located in Zebulon, North Carolina, about 25 miles east of Raleigh. The Legionella bacteria was discovered during the routine testing of a self-standing cooling tower. The company said that the tower never comes into contact with the drugs made at the factory, but they did not say whether there was any risk that employees could have been exposed.

Following the discovery of the bacteria, the plant was shut down for cleaning and disinfecting its cooling towers, and the FDA was notified. The FDA said it was investigating the incident.

The plant reopened six days later, the same week that New York City adopted new emergency measures to prevent another outbreak of Legionnaire's disease there. In July, at least 124 people were sickened and 12 were killed in an outbreak traced to water tanks in the Bronx.

The new rules require all building owners to register and test their cooling towers for Legionella within 30 days. Inspections will be repeated every 90 days, and disinfection will be required if any contamination is found.

In a town hall meeting, City Controller Scott Stringer said the city had not responded quickly enough when the outbreak first started and called the deaths a "clarion call."

"I think we didn't scramble our planes in the air in time ... We were slow to react," he said. "We're going to have to be more nimble."

Legionnaire's on the rise in US

That same week, the CDC published the results of two studies demonstrating that Legionnaire's disease seems to be on the rise in the United States, perhaps due to poor maintenance of water systems.

One study found that of the 32 outbreaks of drinking water-related illness in 2011-2012, two thirds were due to Legionella bacteria. In 2007-2008, only one third of such illnesses were Legionella-related.

The 2011-2012 outbreaks caused a total of at least 430 people to become ill and killed at least 14. All of them were traced to improperly maintained private water supplies; none were traced to public water systems.

"The key to preventing these outbreaks is maintenance of building plumbing systems," the researchers wrote.

The researchers noted that Legionella outbreaks occur more commonly in health-care facilities,
"illustrating the disproportionate disease burden among hospitalized persons, who are more likely to be older or have underlying conditions that increase their risk of developing Legionnaire's disease."

Many people who are exposed to the bacteria do not develop symptoms or develop only a mild, flu-like illness.

The second CDC study found that among the 18 outbreaks of disease associated with water exposure in 2011-2012, 15 were caused by Legionella bacteria. These outbreaks led to ten deaths.

Six of the outbreaks occurred in health-care settings (three in hospitals and three in long-term care facilities) and four of them occurred in hotels or motels. The other sites to experience outbreaks were an office, a factory and a mobile home park.

Three of the outbreaks were caused by contaminated fountains.

"The variety of settings and water sources implicated in the Legionella outbreaks reported here highlights the complexity of Legionella control," the researchers in the first study wrote.

Sources for this article include:

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