Explained: What is brucellosis, the bacterial disease that has infected thousands in China?

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that mainly infects cattle, swine, goats, sheep and dogs.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues, the health commission of Lanzhou City in China announced this week that a leak in a biopharmaceutical company last year caused an outbreak of brucellosis disease. More than 3,000 people have been infected with the disease since and no fatalities have been reported so far.

What is brucellosis?

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that mainly infects cattle, swine, goats, sheep and dogs. Humans can get infected if they come in direct contact with infected animals or by eating or drinking contaminated animal products or by inhaling airborne agents. According to the WHO, most cases of the disease are caused by ingesting unpasteurised milk or cheese from infected goats or sheep.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, sweats, malaise, anorexia, headache and muscle pain. While some signs and symptoms can last for long periods of time, others may never go away. These include recurrent fevers, arthritis, swelling of the testicles and scrotum area, swelling of the heart, neurologic symptoms, chronic fatigue, depression and swelling of the liver or spleen.

Human to human transmission of the virus is rare.

When did the current outbreak begin?

The website of the health commission of Lanzhou City mentions a “Brucells antibody-positive incident” that occured at the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute on November 28 last year. While in the process of producing a veterinary vaccine for the disease between July 24 and August 20, 2019, the factory used expired disinfectants that caused incomplete sterilisation of waste gas. This waste gas, which was carrying the disease-causing virus, subsequently formed aerosols as a result of which people were exposed.

Other disease outbreaks since COVID-19

Hantavirus: In March, China’s English daily Global Times reported the death of a person from Yunnan Province who tested positive for the hantavirus. The hantavirus is not novel and its first case dates back to 1993, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is contracted by humans from infected rodents.

African Swine Fever (AFS): Amid the COVID-19 lockdown, an outbreak of ASF killed thousands of pigs in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. ASF is a severe viral disease that affects wild and domestic pigs typically resulting in an acute haemorrhagic fever. The disease has a case fatality rate (CFR) of almost 100 per cent. Its routes of transmission include direct contact with an infected or wild pig (alive or dead), indirect contact through ingestion of contaminated material such as food waste, feed or garbage, or through biological vectors such as ticks.

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