China: Thousands test positive for bacterial disease caused by biopharmaceutical leak

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Thousands have tested positive for brucellosis, a bacterial disease, in northwest China. The disease is caused by the bacteria Brucella, which is transmitted when a person comes in contact with infected livestock, or by ingesting unpasteurised milk or undercooked meat coming from infected animals. This outbreak is said to be the result of a leak from state-run biopharmaceutical plant making animal vaccines last year.

Over 3,200 people have tested positive for the disease in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province as per the city’s Health Commission. Brucellosis causes joint pain, headaches, fever and fatigue, with some of these issues staying on as chronic ailments. According to some reports, it can also have the side effect of causing inflamed testicles, leaving some men infertile. The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that human-to-human transmission of Brucellosis is ‘extremely rare’ and that it is mainly spread by consuming tainted meat or dairy or inhaling the bacteria. Lanzhou’s health officials tested more than 21,000 people in the area and found another 1,401 people who have tested as ‘early positives’. 

According to CNN, Chinese authorities found that the Zhongmu Lanzhou biopharmaceutical factory manufacturing animal vaccines was using expired disinfectants and sanitizers while producing Brucella vaccines for veterinary use. The gas that the factory lets out is usually cleaned using these products, meaning that the bacteria was not fully removed from the waste gas before it was expelled. This contaminated gas was carried over by the wind to the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, where nearly 200 people had tested positive late last December. This incident occurred between July and August last year, after which the factory’s Brucella vaccine production license was revoked. 

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