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18.09.2020 Asia

Thousands test positive for brucellosis after China lab leaks bacterial disease

By Jan van der Made with RFI
REUTERS - Anton Vaganov
LISTEN SEP 18, 2020
REUTERS - Anton Vaganov

Thousands of people in northwest China have tested positive for a bacterial disease after a leak last year from a state-owned biopharmaceutical plant that produces animal vaccines.    

Health officials in Lanzhou city, capital of the central Chinese province of Gansu, said 3,245 people had contracted brucellosis, a disease often caused by close contact with infected animals or animal products that can bring about fevers, joint pain and headaches.    

According to a statement by the Lanzhou Health authorities said there was no evidence of person-to-person transmission so far.    

Chinese authorities found a biopharmaceutical plant had used expired disinfectant in its production of Brucella vaccines for animals between July and August last year, and the bacteria was not eradicated in its factory exhaust.    

On 7 December 2019, Xinhua News Agency first reported about the case, saying that of over 7,000 people tested, 96 were positive.

But effective action may have been hampered by the brutal emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic, which spread through China from January, before it was finally contained in May.

Aerosols
Contaminated gas from the China Animal Husbandry Lanzhou Biopharmaceutical Factory in Lanzhou formed aerosols containing the bacteria, and this was then carried by wind to the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, infecting nearly 200 people there as of December last year.   

Lanzhou's health commission said Friday that sheep, cattle and pigs were most commonly involved in the spread of the bacteria.    

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, person-to-person transmission of brucellosis is "extremely rare" but some symptoms may reoccur or never go away.    

These include recurrent fevers, chronic fatigue, swelling of the heart or arthritis.    

The factory, which apologised earlier this year, has had its brucellosis vaccine production licence revoked, Lanzhou authorities said.    

Local authorities said that compensation for patients would start in batches as of next month.

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