Over 6,000 people in China’s northwestern city of Lanzhou have tested positive for brucellosis after they were exposed to contaminated aerosols from a state-run brucellosis vaccine factory leak over a year ago, Chinese state health authorities announced on November 4.
“A total of 55,725 people have been tested so far near the factory, accounting for 97.5 percent of the total residents in Yanchang Road sub-district, the worst impacted area, and 6,620 have been confirmed infected,” the Chinese state-run Global Times reported on Thursday.
The new figure more than doubles the number of cases Lanzhou health authorities said they had documented as of September 14 in connection with the same outbreak. At the time, government health officials said they had recorded just 3,245 positive brucellosis cases in the same district.
Brucellosis is a highly infectious bacterial disease commonly found among livestock such as goats, sheep, and pigs. Humans typically contract the disease via close contact with infected animal tissue, or by ingesting unpasteurized dairy products from infected animals. Brucellosis symptoms include recurring fever, fatigue, and joint pain. Though rarely deadly, the disease may cause chronic health problems and damage reproductive health.
Lanzhou health authorities announced late last year that the state-run Lanzhou Biopharmaceutical Plant “used expired sanitizers while producing Brucella vaccines between July 24 and August 20 .”
“This resulted in the bacteria entering the factory’s exhaust and infecting people nearby,” officials said, according to Caixin Global.
“There are more than ten communities with a combined population of more than 10,000 located within one kilometer of the plant,” the Beijing-based news site noted.
The Lanzhou Biopharmaceutical Plant is a unit of the state-run China Animal Husbandry Industry. According to the state health commission assigned to investigate the incident, the plant’s contaminated waste gas formed aerosols that were carried downwind to the nearby Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, where the outbreak was first recorded in November 2019.
“Eight people responsible for the incident in the pharmaceutical factory were fired or warned,” an official of the Lanzhou Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said at a press conference on Wednesday, according to the Global Times.
Chinese state authorities shut down the Lanzhou Biopharmaceutical Plant in December 2019 and dismantled it in October 2020.
“The local government will urge the company to further speed up the relocation of the plant out of the city, to eliminate the source of hidden dangers,” Lanzhou deputy mayor Wei Qingxiang said at Wednesday’s press conference. Wei referred to the state-owned China Animal Husbandry Industry, which runs the pharmaceutical plant.
The brucellosis outbreak in Lanzhou is the latest vaccine corruption scandal to hit China in recent years. Despite repeated failures to safely produce and administer standard vaccines to its citizens, the Chinese Communist Party insists that it will soon release an experimental Chinese coronavirus vaccine.