Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, now several thousand people in northwest China have tested positive for Brucellosis, a bacterial disease, the authorities confirmed last week.
Most leading news organisations carried the story with facts around the outbreak. Since the COVID-19 pandemic already has people on edge, some verified, and popular social media handles tried to push a false narrative about the disease being a “new virus”. One such claim was made by Instagram handle “The Tatva India”, which was liked by over 68,000 people.
A screenshot of the post made by The Tatva India was shared by users on Facebook and Twitter.
Some other verified handles also claimed on Twitter that China had released a “new virus”. The handles include BJP’s Tajinder Singh Bagga and a news outlet called Polymer News.
The Tatva India Says
The claim made by The Tatva India and shared by many is that Brucellosis is a “new virus” that was leaked by a Chinese Lab. Another claim made in the post says that the “death rate is 50% higher than COVID-19”.
What We Found
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease caused by bacteria of the Brucella group. It is a disease of animals, mostly domesticated livestock, which spreads to humans when they are in direct contact with the infected animals or consumes untreated meat or dairy.
The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC), in its analysis, has said that human-to-human transmission of the disease is extremely rare and the mortality rate due to the Brucellosis is close to 2 percent.
The symptoms and signs most commonly reported are fever, fatigue, malaise, chills, sweats, headaches, myalgia, arthralgia, and weight loss. While these may subside, some symptoms can become chronic or never go away, like arthritis or swelling in certain organs.
In a report published in the South China Morning Post, a professor at Yangzhou University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Zhu Guoqiang, said that in severe cases, Brucellosis could cause lasting damage to the reproductive system.
“If not treated properly, men can become infertile,” he added.
Is It New In India?
A study conducted by the Department of Microbiology, Belgaum, tells us that the disease in itself is over 100 years old and has been a significant and increasing veterinary and public health problem in India. The reason for this widespread problem in the country is the living conditions in rural areas and their proximity to the domestic or wild animals.
Studies conducted in the past have shown high seroprevalence of Brucellosis among dairy personnel in contact with infected animals, especially in the states of Haryana and Gujarat.
Brucellosis remains under-diagnosed in India and is often treated with medications for the symptoms.
What Caused the Recent Outbreak?
The Brucellosis outbreak was caused by a leak at a biopharmaceutical company in 2019. The leak took place when the company was producing Brucella vaccines for animal use. The factory, reportedly, used expired disinfectants and sanitisers, meaning not all bacteria were eradicated in the waste gas. The contaminated waste gas formed aerosols that contained the bacteria and got carried into the city by air.
According to CNN, the Health Commission of Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, confirmed that 3,245 people had contracted the disease. Another 1,401 people have tested as preliminarily positive, though there have been no fatalities reported.
Based on the studies by WHO, CDC and Department of Microbiology, Belgaum, Brucellosis is a bacterial disease and not a viral disease. Although its death rate stands at 2 per cent, it cannot be compared with COVID-19 at the moment, since the mortality rate due to coronavirus is still being studied.
COVID-19 has infected 31,240,317 people in the world since December 2019, while the reported fatalities are at 965,068.
(With inputs from IANS.)
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