What is Brucellosis, the new bacterial outbreak from a biopharma facility in China?

An expired disinfectant caused incomplete sterilisation of waste gas

brucella-bacterium-wikimedia Brucella bacterium causing Brucellosis | Wikimedia Commons

Health authorities of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu in China, confirmed that more than 3,000 in the city have tested positive for Brucellosis bacterial disease, a zoonotic ailment caused when humans come into contact with infected livestock or livestock products. The outbreak was reportedly caused by a leak at a biopharmaceutical company last year.  

According to the Lanzhou health department website: "From July 24 to August 20, 2019, in the China Animal Husbandry Lanzhou Biopharmaceutical Factory producing veterinary Brucella vaccine, an expired disinfectant caused incomplete sterilisation of waste gas from production fermentation tanks." The waste gas carrying bacteria formed aerosols,  which moved downwind. Human body inhalation or mucosal contact resulted in a positive Brucella antibody incident in the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute. The disease then spread through the city. 

The authorities stated that, as of September 14, 2020, a total of 21,847 people were tested, 4,646 were initially screened positive, and 3,245 were confirmed by the Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

What is Brucellosis?

According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people contract the disease when they come in contact infected animals or animal products contaminated with the bacteria. Animals that are most commonly infected include sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, and dogs, among others.

It transmits via the consumption of unpasteurised/raw dairy products, or by inhaling the bacteria. Person-to-person spread of Brucellosis is extremely rare, according to the organisation. 

Fever, sweats, headache, fatigue are some of the symptoms. Antibiotics are used in its treatment, and death from Brucellosis is rare, occurring in no more than two per cent of all cases, according to the CDC.