According to the China Youth Daily, as many as 100 animal quarantine personnel in a county of Inner Mongolia were infected with brucellosis, a serious disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
The incident occurred about six months ago during a campaign to test sheep for the disease. Animal quarantine personnel were drawing blood from hundreds of sheep all day long, using only rudimentary tools and no protective clothing. The workers said they were issued one pair of gloves and mask per day and they had to keep using the same ones if the gloves broke while drawing blood.
In April, quite a few of the personnel began experiencing pain in their backs and legs and joint discomfort, dizziness and other symptoms. The county animal husbandry bureau confirmed through testing that several persons were infected with brucellosis.
The China Youth Daily asked the head of the local animal husbandry bureau whether the multiple cases of brucellosis among workers were related to the testing work carried out in the spring.
The director replied, "I don't know and I don't know whether any other people know."
The reporter pressed on, "Is there any other spokesman on the disease prevention activities?"
The director, "Well, there's only me and I can't talk to you about it. This is confidential (机密)."
The reporter: "So did blood testing on sheep take place this spring?"
The director: "Whether it did not not doesn't matter. The point is it's confidential."
The reporter then went to the county center for disease control and asked, "In April and May were there a number of people infected with brucellosis? Were they animal quarantine workers?"
The disease control worker replied without reservation, "Ai-ya! Quite a few, a hundred in all."
The brucellosis-testing campaign is in response to a spike in cases of the disease centered in Inner Mongolia. According to the Minister of Health, Inner Mongolia reported 16,551 cases of brucellosis in 2009, 46% of all cases nationwide.
According to a center for disease control expert, "During the 1950s and '60s, there were serious outbreaks of human infections with brucellosis, but it was mostly wiped out in the 1980s and 90s. However, since the 1990s it has returned and is now one of the fastest-growing reported infectious diseases among humans."
In 2006, an investigation by the Ministries of Health and Agriculture carried out in parts of Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Inner Mongolia found that the disease is found in a widening area that covers northeastern, northwestern, and north China, with the number of infections increasing.
One of the workers involved in the sheep testing said brucellosis is a new concern in the last couple of years. He said, "In the past we just watched for foot and mouth disease. Just in the past few years we started giving injections to sheep and this year is the first time we've drawn blood to test for brucellosis. This time disease prevention work has become a lot more risky."
There were 219 reported cases of brucellosis in 1992 and the reporter found 33,772 were reported in 2010. During June, two workers testing animals in a slaughterhouse in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province--far from Inner Mongolia--were also infected with brucellosis. The Beijing Youth Daily reported in September that students and faculty at Northeastern Agricultural University were infected with brucellosis.
In April 2009, the disease control center in Shijiazhuang City warned people that they should avoid eating roast mutton at small street stalls during the summer months due to the risk of brucellosis or other infections.
A professor Wu at China Agriculture University describes the brucellosis situation as "serious." In some cases it has been caught by drinking unboiled water, pasteurized milk, and sheep meat.