Over 6,000 people in China have tested positive for brucellosis—should we be worried? 2
Nearly 56,000 people living near the pharmaceutical factory, where the leakage occurred, have already been tested. Photo from Reuters

Over 6,000 people in China have tested positive for brucellosis—should we be worried?

The infection was caused by the leakage of bacteria-containing aerosols in a Brucella vaccine factory 
ANCX Staff | Nov 06 2020

The world is still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus, and trials are still ongoing for the vaccine that will finally end this pandemic. China, however, while reported to have contained the spread of the virus in its territory, is facing another serious public health concern.

The state-owned Global Times recently reported that there are 6,620 people found suffering from an infectious bacterial disease called brucellosis in Lanzhou, Northwest China. The cause of the outbreak? The use of an expired disinfectant in its Brucella vaccine production in a biological pharmaceutical factory called Zhongmu Lanzhou, which led to the leakage of bacteria-containing aerosols in the area. The incident happened between July and August 2019, according to the report.

Nearly 56,000 people living near the pharmaceutical factory—or 97.5 percent of the total residents in Yanchang Road sub-district—the worst impacted area, have already been tested. Meanwhile, eight people responsible for the incident were “severely punished,” an official of the Lanzhou Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Affairs sai.

Brucellosis is an infectious bacterial disease caused by brucella. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people can get the disease when they get in contact with infected animals or animal products contaminated with the bacteria. Animals most commonly infected include sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, and dogs. Chances of human-to-human transmission are rare, according to a report released by the World Health Organization.

According to the CDC, brucellosis causes flu-like symptoms which include fever, sweats, malaise, anorexia, headache, pain in muscles, joint, and/or back fatigue. Some signs and symptoms may persist for longer periods of time—these can include recurrent fevers, arthritis, swelling of the testicle and scrotum area, swelling of the heart (endocarditis), neurologic symptoms (in up to 5% of all cases), chronic fatigue, depression, and swelling of the liver and/or spleen.

Recovery may take a few weeks to several months, depending on the timing of treatment and the severity of illness. Death from brucellosis is rare, occurring in no more than 2 percent of all cases, CDC said.

Brucellosis is not a new disease. According to the National Library of Medicine, the disease was first discovered in the 1850s in Malta. The work of Dr. Themistocles Zammit showed that infected goats and consumption of unpasteurized milk transmitted brucellosis among the Maltese. Pasteurisation was not introduced onto the island until the 1930s. It was only in 2005, nearly a century after Zammit’s discovery, when Malta was finally declared free of brucellosis.

The best way to prevent brucellosis infection is to not consume undercooked meat and unpasteurized dairy products (milk, cheese, and ice cream). People who handle animal tissues (such as hunters and animal herdsman) should protect themselves by using rubber gloves, goggles, gowns or aprons.

Treatment options for brucellosis include doxycycline 100 mg twice a day for 45 days, plus streptomycin 1 g daily for 15 days, according to WHO. There are no reported incidents of brucellosis in the Philippines, so far.


Photograph from Reuters