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Brucellosis in China: A bacterial outbreak infects thousands of people after the Lanzhou factory leak



The Health Commission of Lanzhou City, the capital of Gansu Province, confirmed that 3,245 people have contracted brucellosis, which is usually caused by contact with livestock carrying the Brucella bacteria.

The city’s health committee said that although there were no reports of fatalities, another 1401 people initially tested positive. In total, the authorities have tested 21,847 people out of the city’s 2.9 million population.

The disease is also called Maltese fever or Mediterranean fever and can cause headaches, muscle pain, fever, and fatigue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), although these symptoms may subside, some symptoms may become chronic or never go away, such as arthritis or swelling of certain organs.

CDC believes that human-to-human transmission is extremely rare. Instead, most people get the infection by eating contaminated food or breathing bacteria-this seems to be the case in Lanzhou.

According to the city’s health committee, the epidemic originated from a leak at the Lanzhou Biopharmaceutical Factory in Zhongmu, which occurred between late July and late August last year. When producing the Brucella vaccine for animals, the factory uses expired disinfectants and disinfectants-which means that not all bacteria have been eliminated in the exhaust gas.

The polluted exhaust gas formed an aerosol containing bacteria-and leaked into the air, which spread down to the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute with the wind.

People at the institute began to report infections in November and quickly accelerated. According to Xinhua, the state-run news agency of China, by the end of December, at least 1
81 people in the institute had been infected with brucellosis.

Other infected patients include students, faculty and staff of Lanzhou University; according to Xinhua News Agency, the epidemic has even spread to Heilongjiang Province, the most northeastern province of the country, where the Veterinary Research Institute had 13 positive cases in August.

According to the Lanzhou Health Commission, within a few months after the outbreak, provincial and municipal officials investigated the leak in the factory. By January, the authorities had revoked the factory’s vaccine production license and revoked the product approval numbers for its two brucellosis vaccines.
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The factory also cancelled a total of seven veterinary drug product approval numbers.

In February of this year, the factory publicly apologized and stated that it had “severely punished” eight people who were determined to be responsible for the incident. It added that it will cooperate with local authorities in response and clean-up work and contribute to compensation programs for those affected.

The Lanzhou Health Commission also announced in its report on Tuesday that 11 public hospitals will provide free and regular checkups for infected patients. The report did not provide more detailed information about patient compensation, but will be released in batches starting in October.

Although it declined in the 1980s with the advent of vaccines and better disease prevention and control, brucellosis has become more common in China. Nevertheless, there have been a small number of brucellosis outbreaks worldwide in the past few decades. The outbreak in Bosnia infected approximately 1,000 people in 2008, prompting the elimination of sheep and other infected livestock.
In the United States, brucellosis has cost the federal government and the livestock industry billions of dollars. According to the National Park Service, about 60% of bison in Yellowstone National Park carry the bacteria.

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