Outbreak of contagious bacterial disease in China infects thousands after factory leak

Thousands of people in northwest China have been diagnosed with a highly-infectious bacterial disease after an outbreak caused by a leak at a pharmaceutical company.

Authorities in the city of Lanzhou confirmed that 3,245 people had tested positive for brucellosis – a zoonotic disease usually caused by contact with farm animals such as cows, goats and pigs.

The contagious illness can cause symptoms including loss of appetite, headaches, muscle pain, fever and tiredness.

The National Health Commission of Lanzhou, in Gansu province, said they had tested 21,847 people so far and had found no deaths from the illness.

The commission said the outbreak had been caused by “contaminated exhaust” from a factory in Lanzhou producing vaccines for animals.

From late July to late August in 2019, waste gas containing the brucella bacteria seeped out into the air. The Zhongmu Lanzhou factory was found to have used expired disinfectants, so not all of the bacteria were eradicated in the waste gas.

The city’s health authority expects to confirm more positive cases in the coming days. Another 1,401 people in Lanzhou have tested as “preliminarily” positive for brucellosis, according to CNN.

In December last year the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that 181 people working at a veterinary research facility near the factory had contacted the disease – but the full scale of the outbreak was not reported until now.  

The commission said public hospitals would offer free and check-ups for all of the infected patients.  

Scientists work on Covid-19 vaccine at Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing
Scientists work on Covid-19 vaccine at Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing(AFP/Getty)

It comes as scientists in China continue work on a vaccine for the coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese province of Wuhan.

China launched a vaccine emergency use programme in July, offering three experimental shots developed by a unit of state pharmaceutical giant China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and Sinovac Biotech.

China’s national health authority reported 32 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, up sharply from nine cases reported a day earlier.

The total number of coronavirus cases for the country now stands at just over 85,000, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

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