What Is Brucellosis?
Brucellosis is a disease caused by a group of bacteria from the
genus Brucella. These bacteria can infect both humans and
animals. Brucellosis is often spread when people eat contaminated food, which
can include raw meat and unpasteurized milk. The bacteria can also be spread
through the air or contact with an open wound.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and
up to 140 cases of brucellosis are reported annually in the United States. People
who work with animals and raw meat (e.g. butchers) have the highest chance of getting
While brucellosis is rare in the United States, it can be
serious. You should talk to your doctor if you think you may have brucellosis.
Antibiotics can usually treat it. However, some people get this disease
repeatedly over the years. Medicine will not necessarily banish it forever.
To lower your risk of getting brucellosis, avoid eating raw meat
and unpasteurized dairy products. You should also be sure to wear protective
clothing when working with animals or animal tissues.
What Puts People at Risk of Contracting
A variety of animals can contract brucellosis, including goats,
cattle, and dogs. Humans can then contract the disease from infected animals.
The bacteria can be transmitted through ingestion (eating), inhalation
(breathing), or contact with an open wound. This is why you have a higher
chance of getting brucellosis if you spend a lot of time around animals. The
risk is particularly high for people who come in contact with animal urine,
blood, or tissue. Animal placenta may also be infected with Brucella bacteria. You may be exposed to the bacteria
if you help an animal give birth. Fortunately, brucellosis is rarely spread through casual
contact with pets.
People who eat or drink raw animal products are also at higher risk
of contracting brucellosis. Unpasteurized milk and cheese, as well as raw meat,
can carry Brucella bacteria. Your chances of getting brucellosis are higher
if you eat raw dairy or meat products from areas of the world where the disease
is more common, such as Asia, Africa, and many parts of Europe.
Fortunately, brucellosis is rarely spread from one human to
another. However, it can be spread through breastfeeding or sexual contact.
Infection is rare without contact with blood or tissue.
Symptoms of Brucellosis
The symptoms of brucellosis in humans are similar to having the
flu. The symptoms may include:
- appetite loss
- back pain
- pain in the abdomen
- pain in the joints
- fever that comes and goes
- weight loss
Your doctor may test you for brucellosis if you have unexplained
flu-like symptoms. Testing may include:
- blood culture
- urine culture
- bone marrow culture
- cerebrospinal fluid testing
- testing for antibodies to brucellosis
Tell your doctor if you have flu-like symptoms and have been
exposed to animals that might have brucellosis. Exposure doesn’t need to be
recent. You could have brucellosis even if your contact with animals occurred
months ago. If you get this disease, it can take anywhere from one week to two
months for symptoms to appear.
Brucellosis is usually treated with antibiotics. Your doctor may
prescribe both rifampin and doxycycline. You will need to take these medicines
for at least six weeks.
Complications of Brucellosis
Antibiotics will not always eliminate the bacteria that cause brucellosis.
Your doctor may have to prescribe several drugs before the disease is fully treated.
In some cases, the bacteria may remain despite treatment.
If treatment isn’t successful, brucellosis can cause
complications. These may include:
- encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
- lesions on the bones and joints
- endocarditis (infection of the heart’s inner
- meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around
Some of these complications can be lethal. Fortunately, death
from brucellosis is rare. The mortality rate for brucellosis is as low as 2 percent. Most people with
brucellosis are expected to survive the disease, especially if they don’t have
Brucellosis is preventable. To lower your chances of getting it,
you are encouraged to:
- Avoid consuming raw meat or unpasteurized milk,
cheese, and ice cream.
- Wear gloves and protective glasses when handling
animals or animal tissues.
- Cover any open wounds on your skin when coming
in contact with animal blood.
- Wear protective clothing and gloves when helping
animals give birth.
There is a brucellosis vaccine for animals. If you work with
domestic animals, you should consider vaccinating them for brucellosis. Unfortunately,
there is no vaccine for brucellosis in humans. That’s why it’s important to take
other steps to protect yourself from the bacteria.