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Brucellosis in China: Bacteria epidemic infects thousands of people after loss from Lanzhou factory

The Health Commission of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, confirmed that 3,245 people have contracted the disease of brucellosis, often caused by contact with cattle carrying the brucellose bacterium.

Another 1,401 people were preliminary positive, although no deaths were reported, the city health commission said. In total, the authorities tested 21,847 people out of the city’s 2.9 million inhabitants.

The disease, also known as Malta fever or Mediterranean fever, can cause symptoms including headache, body aches, fever, and fatigue. While these may subside, some symptoms may become chronic or never go away, such as arthritis or swelling in some organs, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Human-to-human transmission is extremely rare, according to the CDC. Instead, most people become infected by eating contaminated food or breathing bacteria, as appears to be the case in Lanzhou.

This outbreak resulted from a leak at the Zhongmu Lanzhou organic pharmaceutical factory between the end of July and the end of August last year, according to the city health commission. When producing Brucella vaccines for animal use, the factory used out-of-date disinfectants and disinfectants, which means that not all bacteria have been eliminated in the exhaust.

This contaminated exhaust gas formed aerosols that contained the bacteria ̵

1; and leaked into the air, carried by the wind to the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, where the outbreak first struck.

People at the institute began reporting infections in November, and the process accelerated. By the end of December, at least 181 people in the institute had been infected with brucellosis, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

Other infected patients included students and faculty from Lanzhou University; the outbreak also spread to Heilongjiang province, in the northeastern extremity of the country, where 13 positive cases had worked in the veterinary institute in August, according to Xinhua.

In the months following the outbreak, provincial and municipal officials launched an investigation into the leak at the factory, according to the Lanzhou Health Commission. In January, the authorities had revoked the vaccine manufacturing licenses for the plant and withdrew the product approval numbers for its two brucellosis vaccines.
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A total of seven veterinary drug approval numbers were also canceled at the factory.

In February, the factory issued a public apology and said it had “severely punished” eight people who had been determined to be responsible for the accident. He added that he would cooperate with local authorities in response and clean-up efforts and contribute to a compensation program 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 offered no further details on compensation for patients, except that it would be launched in batches starting in October.

Brucellosis had been much more common in China in the 1980s, although it has since declined with the emergence of vaccines and better disease prevention and control. However, there has been a smattering of brucellosis outbreaks around the world in recent decades; an outbreak in Bosnia infected around 1,000 people in 2008, resulting in the slaughter of infected sheep and other animals.
In the United States, brucellosis has cost the federal government and the livestock industry billions of dollars. According to the national park authorities, about 60% of the female bison in Yellowstone National Park carry the bacteria.

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