Brucellosis Outbreak in China Affects Thousands After Factory Leak
On Tuesday, Chinese authorities confirmed that a bacterial disease had been reported in thousands of people in northwest China in an outbreak caused by a leak at a biopharma company last year.
3,245 people had contracted the disease brucellosis, according to the Health Commission of Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province. Contact with livestock carrying the bacteria brucella often causes the disease.
Though there have been no fatalities reported, another 1,401 people have tested positive in the preliminary test. Out of the city’s 2.9 million population, 21,847 people have been tested so far by the authorities.
The disease, also called Mediterranean fever or Malta fever, can cause symptoms, including muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, and fever. According to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these symptoms may become less severe over time, but symptoms like swelling in certain organs or arthritis can become chronic or never go away.
According to the CDC, the chances of human-to-human transmission is very rare. Most cases are caused by infection through contaminated food or by inhaling the bacteria. The later was the reason for the outbreak in Lanzhou.
According to the city’s health commission, a leak at the Zhongmu Lanzhou biological pharmaceutical, which happened between late July to late August last year, caused the Brucellosis outbreak in china. The company used expired sanitizers and disinfectants while producing Brucella vaccines for animal use, which lead to the leakage of live bacteria through waste gas.
Aerosols containing bacteria were formed from this contaminated waste gas and was leaked into the air. Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute was the first place to report the infection.
Infections were first reported in November, which then rapidly spread. At least 181 people at the institute were infected by the end of December. The outbreak was then spread to Heilongjiang province, where 13 people who had worked at the veterinarian institute in August reported the disease.
According to the Lanzhou Health Commission, provincial and municipal officials launched an investigation into the leak at the factory in the months after the outbreak. The plant’s vaccine production licenses were revoked in January, and authorities removed product approval numbers for its two Brucellosis vaccines along with seven veterinary drug products.
The factory issued a public apology in February, saying they have punished eight people who were found responsible for the incident. The factory also said they would contribute to a compensation program for those affected and would cooperate with local authorities in the response and cleanup efforts.