After the Coronavirus pandemic, several thousand people in northwest China have now tested positive for a new bacteria disease named brucellosis. On Tuesday, authorities stated, a leak in a biopharmaceutical company last year has caused the outbreak.
The Health Commission of Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, announced that 3,245 people were infected by brucellosis.
Another 1,401 people tested as preliminary positive, though there have been no fatalities reported, the city’s Health Commission said. Out of the 2.9 million population of the city, authorities have tested 21,847 people.
According to a report by Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua, from July 24, 2019, to August 20, Zhongmu Lanzhou biological pharmaceutical factory situated near the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute used expired disinfectant in the process of Brucella vaccine production for animal use. This led to the incomplete sterilization of the waste gas from the production fermentation tank.
This toxic waste gas formed aerosols that contained the bacteria — and leaked into the air, which was carried by the wind down to the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, where the outbreak first hit.
People at the institute started reporting infections in November, and it quickly accelerated. By the end of December, nearly 181 people at the institute had been infected with brucellosis.
Since December, 22 students and faculty members of Lanzhou University have tested positive for brucellosis, among whom six had been to the institute. Another 13 cases in Heilongjiang Province had been reported who had worked in the institute in August.
According to a report by CNN, after the outbreak, provincial and municipal officials launched an investigation regarding the incident. By January, authorities had revoked vaccine production licenses for the plant, and withdrew product approval numbers for its two Brucellosis vaccines.
A total of seven veterinary drug product approval numbers were also cancelled in the factory.
In February, the factory issued a public apology stating that they have ‘severely punished’ eight people who lead to the deadly incident and would cooperate with authorities for all the proceedings.
On Tuesday, the city’s Health Commission also announced in its report that 11 public hospitals would provide free and regular checkups for the infected patients. However, additional details about compensation for patients was not given in the report, except that it would be given in allotments starting October.
Brucellosis is a re-emerging zoonotic disease caused by bacteria. Brucella, is mainly transmitted through contact with infected livestock, including cattle and sheep or by eating unpasteurized dairy products. It is also known as Malta fever or Mediterranean fever, can cause symptoms including headaches, muscle pain, fever and fatigue.
While the above said may subside, some symptoms can become chronic, like arthritis or swelling in specific organs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States. Brucellosis can have the side effect of swollen testicles and can render some men infertile.
The mortality rate out of this bacteria is not more than 2 per cent of all the cases.
CDC has further stated that Human-to-human transmission is extremely rare, and most people are infected by eating contaminated food or breathing in the bacteria — which seems to be the case in Lanzhou.
Brucellosis had been a severe public health issue in many developing countries, including China. In China, the first case of infection was reported in 1905, which later between 2005 to 2010, substantially rose. With the invention of the vaccine, the cases declined along with better disease prevention and control. However, few outbreaks of brucellosis has been reported around the world in the past few decades; an outbreak in Bosnia infected about 1,000 people in 2008, prompting the culling of sheep and other infected livestock.
In the US, since 1990s brucellosis has cost the federal government and livestock industry billions of dollars. About 60 per cent of female bison at Yellowstone National Park carry the bacteria, and each of these can transmit the according to national park authorities.
According to a review by the Indian Academy of Sciences, brucellosis is significant and increasing veterinary and public health problem in India, as 80 per cent of the population is dependent on occupations involving livestock. Moreover, this can be a severe problem in counties like India, considering the density of population, which can lead to a wide-spread of the diseases. In India, the presence of the said bacteria was first found in the previous century, and since then many states have reported continuously about smattering outbreaks.