What is Brucellosis?

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that is passed from animals to humans and from animals to animals. It is an uncommon disease in the United States — fewer than 200 people have contracted it. Across the globe, however, statistics report a half million people each year catch brucellosis. While it is seldom fatal — only about two percent of people who contract the disease die from it — brucellosis can severely impact health.

What is Brucellosis?

Brucellosis is an animal disease that affects several species, both domestic and wild. The Brucella bacteria causes the infection, which is incurable in the animals it affects; these include cows, goats, sheep, pigs, dogs, camels, bison, foxes, seals, and deer. Animals contract brucellosis from each other through mating, blood, and infected fluids and tissues.

How Do People Contract Brucellosis?

People can contract brucellosis by coming into contact with the blood, meat, and milk of infected animals. The disease can be spread through the consumption of unpasteurized dairy foods such as milk and cheeses, and undercooked meats, as well as working with infected animals.

Who is More at Risk for Contracting Brucellosis?

Farmers, ranchers, hunters, veterinarians, butcherers, and other people who handle meat and unpasteurized milk are most likely to contract brucellosis. The bacteria can enter through cuts in the skin or ingestion.

What are the Symptoms of Brucellosis?

The most common symptoms of brucellosis include fever, sweating, joint pain, muscle pain, lack of appetite, headache, and fatigue. In rarer cases, symptoms can develop into more serious conditions such as arthritis, neurological problems, depression, chronic fatigue, swelling of the scrotum and testes, infection and swelling of the heart or endocarditis, swelling of the liver and spleen, and recurrent fever.

Diagnosis of Brucellosis

If a patient comes to the clinic or hospital with multiple symptoms as mentioned earlier, the doctor will perform a blood test to determine if he or she has any brucella bacteria within the bloodstream. Only after testing the blood can a physician confirm that a patient has brucellosis. The blood test can also determine what type of Brucella bacteria the patient contracted.

Treatment of Brucellosis

There is no cure for the animal form of brucellosis, but humans can be treated, and eventually cured, though it takes a long course of treatment to do so. The disease is usually treated with antibiotics over the course of six to eight weeks. After that, the doctor may reevaluate to determine if the bacteria is gone. There is a five to 15 percent chance of relapse, and this usually happens within six months of treatment. It takes many months to recover from brucellosis, even when treatment is successful.

Types of Brucellosis

There are several types of brucellosis, but four primary ones that infect people: B. abortus, B. suis, B. canis, and B. melitensis. The first comes from cattle, the second from pigs, the third from dogs, and the fourth from sheep and goats.

What are the Complications Associated with Brucellosis?

Untreated brucellosis may lead to complication including infection of the heart’s lining and valves or endocarditis, infection of the central nervous system, and abscesses in the liver. In pregnant women, brucellosis can cause miscarriage or congenital disabilities. In many cases, brucellosis becomes chronic, causing depression, fever, joint pain, and fatigue.

Prevention of Brucellosis

You can prevent brucellosis by eating only pasteurized dairy products and avoiding raw milk and cheeses. All meat should be thoroughly cooked to ensure any brucellosis bacteria is killed off, especially in the case of game meat. People who handle raw meat should wear disposable gloves and take other sanitation and protective measures at all times.

Guidelines for Hunters

Because brucellosis may be common in game animals, avoid handling kills without disposable gloves. This includes every step of the process, including field dressing the carcass. Also, take care to bag the meat. Keep all cuts and scrapes bandaged, so there is less chance of contamination.