What is Brucellosis?
Brucellosis is a highly infectious disease caused by the bacteria of the genus Brucella. Animals that are affected by Brucella include sheep, goats, cattle, camel, deer, pigs, and dogs. Brucella melitensis, Brucella abortus and Brucella suis are the types known to produce disease in man. 

How is Brucellosis spread?
Humans become infected by coming in contact with animals or animal products that are contaminated with these bacteria. The most common way to be infected is by eating or drinking contaminated milk or milk products. Contamination of skin wounds is a way in which spread can occur in farmers, in those working in abattoirs or meat packing plants and occasionally in vets. Direct person-to-person spread of brucellosis is extremely rare. Mothers who are breast-feeding may transmit the infection to their infants. Sexual transmission has also been reported.

What are the symptoms of brucellosis?
In humans, brucellosis can cause a range of symptoms that are similar to flu and may include fever, sweats, headaches, back pains, and weakness. Untreated, symptoms can recur over many years (its old name was undulant fever). Occasionally, severe infection of the nervous system or heart can occur. Brucellosis can also cause long-lasting or chronic symptoms that include recurrent fevers, joint pain, and fatigue.

How common is brucellosis?
Brucellosis is quite common in certain parts of the world; almost half a million cases are diagnosed in the world each year. Brucellosis is a notifiable disease in Ireland. In Ireland, during 2008, three cases of brucellosis were notified. Most cases in the UK are acquired overseas and the same is possibly true of Irish cases. In 2009, the Minister of Agriculture confirmed that Ireland had been declared brucellosis free.

How is brucellosis diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on finding Brucella organisms in samples of blood or bone marrow. Also, blood tests can be done for Brucella antibodies.

What is the treatment for brucellosis?
Antibiotics are effective against Brucella. The antibiotics of choice are doxycycline and rifampin and are used in combination for a number of weeks to prevent recurring infection. Depending on the timing of treatment and severity of illness, recovery may take a few weeks to several months.

Can brucellosis be prevented?
The best ways to protect yourself again brucellosis is to avoid unpasteurised milk and milk products (including ice cream). This is especially important if you are travelling overseas. Do not consume unpasteurized milk, cheese, or ice cream while travelling. Abattoir workers and meat packers should use rubber gloves when handling viscera of animals. There is no vaccine available for humans.

Last updated: 2/7/2010