Brucellosis is a bacterial infection often associated with the consumption of raw food. Apparently, another source of infection is Chinese pharmaceutical companies. Who wants a Chinese COVID vaccine?
Animals carry all sorts of bacteria and viruses, even the nice, domesticated ones like dogs and cows. That's why we pasteurize animal products such as milk and cheese and encourage people to avoid raw food. Just because Uncle Jim Bob operates an organic farm doesn't mean that his free-range goats are microbe-free.
One of the rarer infections that you can get from raw food is called brucellosis, caused by various species of the bacterial genus Brucella. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there are only about 100 to 200 cases in the U.S. each year, but the symptoms, which are flu-like, can be really nasty.
In China, brucellosis is more common and outbreaks still occur. However, the most recent brucellosis outbreak, which has infected at least 3,245 people, surely is a first: The source of the infection was not contaminated food but a pharmaceutical factory. How on earth could that happen?
Well, there's more than one way to get brucellosis. Consuming raw or unpasteurized food is one way. Another is to touch animal products contaminated with the bacteria, which can enter the body through breaks in the skin. Yet another route is inhalation. While this is mostly a threat to those who come into close contact with animals or animal products, like slaughterhouse workers, infection via inhalation can occur if the bacteria are aerosolized. And that's exactly what happened in China.
CNN has reported that a pharmaceutical company that was manufacturing brucellosis vaccines for animals was using expired disinfectants. Waste gas emitted from the factory contained live Brucella, which then wafted its way into the city of Lanzhou, infecting thousands of people.
Who Wants a Chinese COVID Vaccine?
This news doesn't come at a particularly good time for China, which has been blamed for causing and then covering up the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Like in several other countries, Chinese companies are working to produce a vaccine against coronavirus. One company, called CanSinoBIO, is testing their vaccine in soldiers. Lucky them!
Not to be jingoistic, but there's a reason why things like this don't happen in the United States, Europe, Japan, or other advanced nations: A culture of safety and regulation when it comes to industries that have the power to cure or kill its customers. China simply does not have that. Yet, the U.S. (and many other countries) use Chinese ingredients in the pharmaceutical drugs that we manufacture. As I wrote for USA Today, this is a substantial threat to national security and public health.
Incidents like the mass infection described above should further stiffen our resolve to deal strongly with China, forcing them to adopt standards that are acceptable to Americans and citizens of other advanced nations. Until then, China poses an unnecessary risk to global health. As a case-in-point, who among you would actually sign up for a Chinese COVID vaccine?