Pharmacies in the German city of Cologne have been shuttered pending a major probe, after a pregnant mother and her baby died shortly after she took a common glucose-based test. The product was bottled in local drug stores.
There’s nothing to suggest from local media reports that the woman had any medical condition that had compromised her health, and the drug she took was simply to test for gestational diabetes. An autopsy later revealed that she had died from multiple organ failure. Despite the best efforts to save her baby with an emergency cesarean section, the unborn child also did not survive.
As the incident triggered some alarm, German authorities closed the Holy Spirit Pharmacy where the 28-year-old woman had purchased the contaminated glucose test, along with two of its other branches. The move is a precaution while the investigation is ongoing, North Rhine-Westphalia’s Health Ministry said on Thursday.
Meanwhile the state government said it is “not possible to completely rule out the possibility of other customers being endangered by medicines supplied by the pharmacy.”
Forensic investigators have discovered that a “toxic substance” which can be found in pharmacies but should not be in the diabetes test was found in a container used to transfer the glucose into sachets, public prosecutor Ulrich Bremer said on Tuesday. Reports have suggested it was an anesthetic substance.
A “20-strong police murder squad” is now looking into whether there was intentional tampering with the substance or whether it was contaminated through negligence, The Local reported. The team of investigators is questioning witnesses, investigating pharmacy records and probing for other evidence. The possibility that the poisoning was deliberate has not been ruled out.
German media reports also say that a second woman was given the same preparation and experienced abnormal complications, but she stopped before she had consumed the entire amount. She was brought to hospital experiencing cardiac arrhythmia, but was released a day later.
The diabetes test is routine for expectant mothers in Germany and requires the woman to take a highly concentrated glucose solution before having their blood sugar levels checked by a doctor.
Since the pharmacies were closed almost a week after the deaths, police warned other women who had purchased the tests in the meantime to hand them in at the nearest police station. The pharmacy where the woman bought the tainted test has also been prevented from selling any products it had bottled or produced itself.
Pharmacy owner Till Fuxius told the DPA news agency that he was “stunned” by the “unimaginable tragedy” and that he could not explain the deaths. “I’m a witness, not the accused,” he said.