Reports have arisen from Lanzhou, China, confirming that over 3200 people have tested positive for Brucellosis. Unlike the Coronavirus, Brucellosis is a bacterial disease, but they are similar in many ways as well. According to Dr Seyed E Hasnain, Prof. of Molecular Medicine and Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Hamdard College and Hon. Prof. at IIT Delhi, “…similarities include: a) Spread due to inhalation of air containing the bacteria, as happened recently in China; b) initial infection due to movement of travellers; c) disease symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, body ache, general weakness, fatigue, etc; d) infection can affect most parts of the body including inflammation of the testicles leading to infertility in men, inflammation of the meninges and CVDs; and e) about 2 per cent of infected persons die…”
Does India need to worry about these bacteria? The answer to that question is not a simple yes or no, but more nuanced. One advantage that doctors have in the fight against Brucellosis is that it is known to be treatable by administering antibiotics, primarily rifampin doxycycline and streptomycin, unlike COVID-19 where there is no real and proven treatment option (emergency plasma therapy and experimental treatments notwithstanding). However, the problem is that the Indian healthcare system has always been heavily overburdened, with one government hospital for every 55,591 individuals and one bed for every 1844 individuals. The pandemic has done the system no favours with the government being forced to call in retired and nearly-graduated doctors, a consistent shortage of PPE kits and medical supplies, and a fundamental shortage of standard and ICU beds in every city causing COVID-19 patients to ping-pong from hospital to hospital in search of a bed. Hospitals have had to set aside more beds for COVID-19 patients than they have available for non-COVID cases, and this rings true across the board.
It would be nigh impossible for the Indian healthcare system to withstand another mass infectious disease and might result in it being completely overrun. This problem is highlighted by the fact that no effective vaccine exists to guard against it. The only way forward would be to ramp up and focus screening of travellers who may have contacted the bacteria, introducing a mandatory blood culture and antibody test against Brucella along with the traditional swab test for COVID-19. Otherwise, our outgunned healthcare system will be forced to fight a war on two fronts, and it is difficult to imagine a scenario where that ends well.