March 9, 2009 / 12:04 PM / 11 years ago

Hong Kong says drug contaminated with lethal fungus

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong health authorities said on Monday that a tainted drug possibly linked to the deaths of five patients likely became contaminated with a lethal fungus during its manufacture.

Some 40,000 people are believed to have taken the tainted 100 mg Allopurinol tablets, used primarily to treat gout.

Hong Kong’s Health director said an investigation confirmed the mould had formed during a delay between the mixing of the drug granule powder and its compression into tablets.

Investigations linked it to a rare fungal infection, mucormycosis, which has killed five people at a local hospital.

The tablets were manufactured by Europharm Laboratories in Hong Kong.

“There is unnecessary or undue delay in tableting ... and therefore forming a culture medium for the fungus to grow,” said Hong Kong’s director of Health Lam Ping-yan.

Europharm could not be reached for comment.

Most healthy people aren’t affected by the fungi, but those with weakened immune systems are susceptible including those with leukaemia and patients undergoing marrow transplants.

Hong Kong’s Department of Health is conducting tests to see whether 41 other drugs manufactured by Europharm are also contaminated, with the results expected sometime this week.

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