What is brucellosis?

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that is classified as zoonotic, meaning it is most often a disease of animals that is occasionally transmitted to humans. There are three major types of Brucella bacteria that affect humans: Brucella suis (found in goats). B. abortus (cattle) and B. melitensis (sheep). Humans may become infected with this disease through contact with infected animals or animal products. Other names for brucellosis include:

  • Mediterranean fever
  • Rock fever (or Gibraltar fever)
  • Bang’s disease
  • Malta fever (or Maltese fever)
  • Undulant fever
  • Cyprus fever

How common is brucellosis?

Brucellosis is found all over the globe. However, those places with poor public health and poor domestic animal health programs are at a higher risk. For example, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe are more at risk for brucellosis. In the United States, brucellosis is rare in cattle (who are vaccinated) but can be found in buffalo and elk populations in the West.

How do you become infected with brucellosis?

You can become infected with brucellosis by:

  • Consuming undercooked meat
  • Consuming raw dairy items
  • Inhaling bacteria which cause brucellosis
  • Touching infected animals

These are mostly animals that we associate with farming, such as sheep, cows, goats, and pigs. However, dogs can also be carriers, as can wild animals such as elk.

While brucellosis is unlikely to spread person-to-person, there is a chance it could be spread through breast milk, blood transfusions, or tissue transplants. However, this is not routine.

What causes brucellosis?

Bacterial infections cause brucellosis. It is an infectious disease which animals can transmit to people through close contact. These animals include cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and dogs. The bacteria can also be contained in animal products, such as dairy. Thus, people become infected by consuming these products.

What are the symptoms of brucellosis?

The following are the first signs of brucellosis:

The following are symptoms that may come back, last for a long while, or not go away:

  • Fevers that come and go
  • Inflammation of joints
  • Inflammation of testicles or scrotum
  • Inflammation of the heart
  • Inflammation of liver, spleen
  • Emotional changes
  • Issues with the nervous system (up to 5% of patients)

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/20/2018.

References

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Brucellosis. Accessed 8/23/2018.
  • Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Brucellosis. Accessed 8/23/2018.
  • Monarch Initiative. Brucellosis. Accessed 8/23/2018.

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