A few days ago, several thousand people in northwest China tested positive for brucellosis, a bacterial disease, as confirmed by Chinese officials. However, now a fake viral post claims that brucellosis is a virus which has been leaked by Chinese labs.
The claim was originally shared on social media by The Tatva India, whose Instagram bio reads, “New India’s independent news-source, unveiling critical and unprecedented opinions to the world." The profile has 87.5k followers.
The headline, obviously meant to grab eyeballs, reads - China’s Lab Leaks New Virus Brucellosis: 50 Times Higher Death Rate than Covid-19, Makes Men Infertile.
The caption of the post also reads, “Authorities have now discovered that the Zhongmu Lanzhou biological pharmaceutical factory, which was making brucellosis vaccines for animals, ‘ACCIDENTLY’ vented an aerosolized version of Brucella (the bacteria that causes brucellosis) into the air last summer due to the use of expired sanitizers and disinfectants. This has led to the spread of the bacterial disease across the surrounding area through the air."
The post, and hundreds of screenshots of the post, have gone viral on social media since then.
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More than 4,000 people in North-Western China have suddenly tested positive for a deadly bacterial infection ‘Brucellosis’ (alleged virus not yet named) after an outbreak caused by a leak at a biopharmaceutical company. The National Health Commission (NHC) of Lanzhou confirmed that at least 3,245 people in the city of Lanzhou - the capital of Gansu province - have been diagnosed with the infectious disease usually caused by inhaling bacteria or drinking unpasteurised milk or contact with livestock. 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. The infection can affect almost all parts of the body - such as the heart, liver, central nervous system, and the reproductive system. Health experts said one of the serious complications due to the disease can result in inflammed testicles, leading to infertility in men. Other possible symptoms of brucellosis include - arthritis, endocarditis (infection of the heart’s inner lining), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around your brain), etc. The mortality rate for brucellosis is about 2 % (although COVID-19 only has 0.03). Authorities have now discovered that the Zhongmu Lanzhou biological pharmaceutical factory, which was making brucellosis vaccines for animals, 'ACCIDENTLY' vented an aerosolized version of Brucella (the bacteria that causes brucellosis) into the air last summer due to the use of expired sanitizers and disinfectants. This has led to the spread of the bacterial disease across the surrounding area through the air. . . . #TheTatva #TatvaNews #China #Virus #ChineseVirus #COVID19 #Leak #India #IndiaFightsCorona #CoronaVirus #Brucellosis
But that’s not entirely true.
Brucellosis is also known as Malta fever. The common symptoms of brucellosis include muscle pain, fever, fatigue and headache. Apart from these, people infected with the disease may suffer from arthritis or swelling in certain organs, recurrent fevers, inflammation of the heart (endocarditis) and spondylitis.
In the early stages, it is hard to detect as patients usually catch flu. However, if someone has been experiencing persistent and rapidly rising fever, muscle pains and unusual weakness, he should visit a doctor.
According to reports, a biological pharmaceutical factory used expired disinfectants and sanitisers in the process of manufacturing Brucella vaccines for animal use. What happened was the factory in July and August could not properly remove all the bacteria from the waste gas, leading to the outbreak of brucellosis.
As per a report by CNN, the disease started spreading around November and by December around 181 people had been infected.
The disease has started expanding its footprints in China with more than 3,000 people contracting it in Gansu province. More than 21,000 people have tested positive for brucellosis in the capital city of Lanzhou.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), brucellosis rarely transmits from human to human. In Lanzhou, those who consumed contaminated food or breathed in air replete with the bacteria contracted the disease.
To keep the disease at bay, people should avoid having unpasteurized dairy foods. They also should wear gloves, vaccinate domestic animals, take precautions at the workplace and cook meat properly.
The bacteria can also enter the body through contact with infected animals. Those who work at animal farms or slaughterhouses are at high risk of infection. Veterinarians and ranchers should also take precautions while executing their work.
The post which went viral is worrying on two accounts - one, Brucellosis is not caused by a viral infection, unlike Covid-19. Therefore, it would be unfair to compare an outbreak of the bacterial disease to the ongoing pandemic which has already killed millions of people worldwide.
Secondly, the bacteria was not leaked from a Chinese lab, the leak happened in a pharmaceutical factory. Moreover, the post makes it seem like the factor intentionally leaked the bacteria causing the outbreak. The coronavirus pandemic, which also originated from China’s Wuhan, fuelled racism and Sinophobia with billions blaming the country. Why, even US President Donald Trump didn’t hesitate to call the virus, Chinese Virus.
Here’s what we know about Brucellosis so far - initially a small number of people were thought to be infected, but testing of 21,000 people has showed the number infections to be much higher. No deaths have so far been reported.