Brucellosis – Another Epidemic Exported to India by China?

As the world is still trying to understand how to deal with the Coronavirus Pandemic and India grappling with the deadly virus with more than 59 Lacs cases resulting in more than 93,300 deaths, there are reports suggesting that a China originated bacterial disease has found its way to India.

Brucellosis, caused by a group of bacteria belonging to the genus Brucella, can affect both humans and animals. The outbreak of this deadly disease was reported after a leak at a biopharmaceutical company in China.

Recent reports suggest that the infectious bacteria has already found its way to India and threatens another epidemic for the country. Read on to know more about the disease, causes and how to stay safe.

The Outbreak

Brucella bacteria outbreak was reported in the Zhongmu Lanzhou biological pharmaceutical factory in the Gansu province of China, between July to late August 2019 when the factory used expired disinfectants and sanitizers in the production of Brucella vaccine and contaminated waste gas formed aerosols that contained the bacteria that lead to the outbreak. There have been more than 3000 positive cases of the disease in China.

As per Dr. Seyed E Hasnain, the Honorary Professor on the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT-Delhi), most up-to-date proof suggests that brucellosis disease is getting connected to passengers returning. While the disease may spread to countries neighboring China, India, in particular, is said to be under a bigger threat due to the vast agricultural base and huge cattle population.

What is Brucellosis and how does it spread?

Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that spreads mostly from animals to people. Most commonly, people are infected by eating raw or unpasteurized dairy products. Sometimes, this highly infectious bacteria can spread through the air or through direct contact with infected animals. The disease is rarely deadly. However, if not diagnosed, untreated brucellosis has a fatality rate of 2 – 5%.

The most common ways of infection are:

Consumption of raw dairy Products: Consuming unpasteurized milk, ice cream, butter and cheeses can infect humans and the bacteria may also be transmitted in raw or undercooked meat of infected animals.

Inhaling air contaminated by animals: The infection can spread easily in air contaminated by infected animals and therefore farmers and dairy workers are at risk.

Through body fluids of infected animals: The bacteria present in animal blood, semen or placenta may be transmitted to humans through a wound or cut in the skin. However, normal touching, brushing and playing with pets rarely cause infection.

The infection may also spread through sexual contact, from breastfeeding mothers to babies, however, such cases are rare.

What makes Brucellosis a big threat?

Long gestation period: Symptoms of brucellosis may show up anywhere between a few days to a few months after you’ve been infected.

Difficult early diagnosis: Brucellosis can be hard to diagnose, especially in the early stages, as the signs and symptoms are similar to those of the flu. Moreover, the symptoms may disappear for weeks or months and then return.

Long treatment cycle: The disease can usually be treated with antibiotics. However, the treatment may take several weeks to months. Not to mention that the infection can recur. Some people may suffer from chronic brucellosis and experience symptoms for months and even years, even after successful treatment. The long-term symptoms of chronic Brucellosis may include fatigue, recurrent fevers, arthritis, inflammation of the heart and spondylitis.

No Vaccine: Just like coronavirus, there is no vaccine available, for humans or dogs, against Brucella, the bacteria causing brucellosis. The only available vaccines are for cattle and that too administered only to calves.

Which animals can be infected by Brucella bacteria?

Brucellosis affects many wild and domestic animals, including cattle, goats, sheep, dogs, pigs and wild hogs, deer, elk, bison and camels.

What are the symptoms of this disease?

The signs and symptoms of Brucellosis are very similar to those of Flu. These include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Joint, muscle and back pain
  • Headache

You should see a doctor if you develop a rapidly rising fever, muscle aches, unusual weakness or have a persistent fever.

Precautions against Brucellosis

Avoid unpasteurized milk, cheese and ice cream, irrespective of their origin.

Wear gloves when handling animals, although it is more true for veterinarians, dairy workers, farmers and slaughterhouse workers, you should either avoid contact with your pet dog or wear gloves if you have weakened immunity.

Cook meat thoroughly (between 63C-74C internal temperature) before consuming, although it would be advisable to avoid red meat until the threat of infection is neutralized.

Last but not the least, the animal farm and dairy owners must take adequate precautions to vaccinate the livestock to curb the spread of the disease.

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