Photo: Pexels
Photo: Pexels

It has been a difficult few months as most of the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. But even as the virus continues to wreak havoc, China is grappling with a new crisis.

Several thousand people in the northwestern part of the country have tested positive for a bacterial disease called brucellosis. This is believed to have been caused by a leak at at a bio-pharmaceutical company last year.

As per a report by The Nihon Keizai Shimbun, this was the Lanzhou Biopharmaceutical Plant Gansu Province which had accidentally exposed many to contaminated factory exhaust. A unit of the state-owned China Animal Husbandry Industry, it had reportedly been using expired sanitizers while producing Brucella vaccines in July-August 2019. This somehow led to the bacteria entering the factory's exhaust and eventually infecting people nearby.

It has recently become a far bigger issue, simply because of the fact that the disease is not completely curable. Also known as Malta fever or Mediterranean fever, it can cause flu-like symptoms, including fever, weakness, malaise and weight loss. And if not treated within a specific window of time, it can also become incurable.

As per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while the initial issues may subside, some symptoms can become chronic or never go away, such as arthritis or swelling in certain organs.

Interestingly, brucellosis is usually a animal borne disease that, according to the CDC, most commonly infects people when they eat or drink unpasteurized/raw dairy products sourced from affected animals. The bacteria can also enter wounds in the skin or mucous membranes through contact with infected animals. It becomes harder to combat due to the fact that there is no effective way to detect infected animals by their appearance.

The disease is caused by a group of bacteria known scientifically as the genus Brucella. Three species of Brucella cause the most concern: B. abortus, principally affecting cattle, bison and cervids; B. suis, principally affecting swine and reindeer but also cattle and bison; and B. melitensis, principally affecting goats.

You can also become infected by breathing in the bacteria that causes brucellosis - which seems to be the case for the people of Lanzhou.

According to CNN, the Health Commission of Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, has confirmed that 3,245 people had contracted the disease. Another 1,401 people have tested as preliminarily positive, though there have been no fatalities reported, the city's Health Commission said on Tuesday.

In total, authorities have tested 21,847 people out of the city's 2.9 million population.

(With inputs from IANS)

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