New Brucellosis Outbreak in China: Over 3000 People Test Positive

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Brucellosis is a highly contagious bacterial infection and first spread in China in the 1970s and 1980s, but was successfully contained. As of September 14th 2020, 21847 people were tested in China, of which more than 3000 people tested positive for Brucellosis. The deadly bacterial outbreak started due to a leak at a biopharmaceutical company last year.

The National Health Commission (NHC) of Lanzhou confirmed that around 3,245 people in the city of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, had been diagnosed with Brucellosis. The infectious disease is usually caused by drinking unpasteurized milk or contact with livestock.


Authorities have now discovered that the Zhongmu Lanzhou biological pharmaceutical factory accidentally vented an aerosolized version of Brucella (the bacteria that causes brucellosis) into the air last summer due to the use of expired sanitizers and disinfectants. The disease can also spread through air or by direct contact with infected animals. However, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the disease yet. Breastfeeding mothers who are infected with the bacteria may still transmit the infection to their infants.

What is Brucellosis?
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Brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by a group of bacteria belonging to the genus Brucella. It is also known as Malta fever or Mediterranean fever. This bacterial infection affects both animals (sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, and dogs) and humans. It usually spreads due to the consumption of raw or unpasteurized dairy products, direct contact with the fluid of an infected animal or by inhaling contaminated air.

The Brucella species are named as per their primary hosts: B. abortus and B. suis are most common. B. abortus is a pathogen of cattle, B. suis is found majorly in swine whereas B. canis is found in dogs. Also, Brucella melitensis has been spotted in goats, sheep, and camels.

Signs and symptoms of the disease:

  1. Fever that comes and goes
  2. Respiratory problems
  3. Headache
  4. Abdominal pain, joint and back pain
  5. Fatigue
  6. Chills/ Sweats
  7. Weight /Appetite loss

The infection can affect even other parts of the body – such as the heart, liver, CNS, and the reproductive system. It also leads to infertility in men, arthritis, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around your brain), etc.

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Chronic brucellosis can lead to complications in multiple organ systems – skeletal, respiratory tract, liver, heart, gastrointestinal among many others. Symptoms can last for months or even years, but the disease is rarely deadly. However, if not diagnosed, untreated brucellosis has a fatality rate of 5%.


Treatment and prevention

Firstly, a doctor tests your blood or bone marrow for the presence of the brucellosis causing bacteria. In case you are severely affected by the disease, you have to go through certain other tests as well. It might include X-rays, CT scans, cerebrospinal culture, and/or echocardiography. The tests are carried out to know the severity of the infection and any other related complications.

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As far as the treatment of brucellosis is concerned, the aim is to reduce the symptoms and is usually treated with antibiotics, including rifampin and doxycycline (Note: Names are mentioned purely for academic purposes. We do not promote self diagnosis or medication. Kindly consult a medical professional if you are experiencing any of the symptoms.) Recovery from the illness may take a few weeks to several months as there is no permanent cure for this disease. Chronic brucellosis is especially hard to cure and causes general fatigue accompanied with persistent fever.

Preventive measures include avoiding raw/unpasteurized dairy products and taking safety precautions by wearing masks, rubber gloves, aprons, when handling animals, or working in a laboratory. The disease is more common in some parts of the world where people consume a lot of unpasteurized goat’s cheese, sometimes called village cheese. One can help prevent or reduce the risk of catching brucellosis by consuming properly cooked meat, vaccinating domestic animals, etc.

Further reading:

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Shreya Paul
Aiming for the stars!

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