Brucellosis is a disease you get from the bacteria Brucella. You get brucellosis from drinking unpasteurized milk, eating unpasteurized milk products or handling infected animals. Symptoms can come and go for a long time and include fever, joint pain and sweating. Brucellosis is treated with antibiotics.
Brucellosis (pronounced “bru-cell-OH-sis”) is a disease you get from the bacteria Brucella. It can cause vague symptoms like fever, joint pain and sweating that come and go over a long time.
Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning you get it from animals. It’s also sometimes called undulant fever, Malta fever, Mediterranean fever and many other names.
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Brucellosis exists in most countries of the world. You’re at higher risk for a Brucella infection if you:
There are about 500,000 cases of brucellosis worldwide each year. Brucellosis is rare in the U.S., with only 100 to 200 cases each year.
Brucella, the bacteria that causes brucellosis, gets into your body through your mouth, nose, eyes or a break in your skin. From there, it gets into your lymph nodes or tissues where it slowly multiplies. From there, it can infect almost any part of your body, including your heart, liver, brain and bones, and cause swelling and damage.
Symptoms of brucellosis take two to four weeks or longer to appear after you’re exposed to the bacteria. Symptoms can come and go for months or years, including:
Several types of Brucella bacteria cause brucellosis, including B. abortus, B. canis, B. meliensis and B. suis. Animals carry Brucella, including:
Brucellosis is transmitted through contact with infected animals or unpasteurized dairy products. You can get brucellosis by:
While person-to-person transmission is a very unlikely way to get brucellosis, there have been rare cases of Brucella transmission:
No, brucellosis isn’t considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). There have only been rare cases of brucellosis spreading through sexual contact.
A healthcare provider diagnoses brucellosis by asking about your symptoms and testing your blood, tissues or other samples for signs of the bacteria Brucella. As symptoms of brucellosis can look like other diseases, your provider may test you for other conditions to rule them out.
The best way to confirm a Brucella infection is through growing the bacteria from body fluid or tissue. Brucella is slow-growing, so it may take a few weeks to confirm your diagnosis. You may need to do more than one blood test over a few weeks to check for signs of Brucella.
Your provider might get body fluid samples, and use imaging or other tests to help diagnose brucellosis, including:
Your healthcare provider will treat brucellosis with a combination of at least two types of antibiotics. You’ll need to take them for at least six to eight weeks. Depending on your specific case, you may need other therapies (like draining infected areas or managing complications).
Antibiotics healthcare providers prescribe to treat brucellosis include:
In addition to taking prescribed antibiotics to get rid of the bacteria, you may be able to manage some symptoms of brucellosis, like joint pain and fever, at home. Ask your healthcare provider if there are over-the-counter (OTC) medications or other therapies that are safe for treating your symptoms.
You can reduce your risk of brucellosis by practicing safe food handling and wearing protective clothing while working with animals, for instance:
Most people with brucellosis will make a full recovery with antibiotic treatment, but it can take a long time. You can expect to take antibiotics for several weeks or months to make sure all the bacteria in your body are gone.
Sometimes, brucellosis can come back after you’ve finished treatment, especially if you don’t take antibiotics long enough. Some symptoms, like arthritis, can last a long time, even after you finish treatment. You may need additional medications or therapies if you have complications of brucellosis.
Complications of brucellosis are more likely if it goes untreated for a long time. Complications include:
Yes, Brucella infections in humans can be cured by antibiotics. However, some complications can cause lasting damage.
It’s rare for someone to die of brucellosis. The fatality (death) rate from brucellosis is between 1% and 2% of all cases.
If you’ve been diagnosed with brucellosis, take all of your medication as prescribed by your provider, even if you feel better. If you stop taking antibiotics too soon, brucellosis can come back. Contact your provider if you have new or worsening symptoms.
See a healthcare provider if you have symptoms of brucellosis, especially if your work or hobbies put you at risk for infection.
Go to the ER if you have symptoms of serious illness, including:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Brucellosis is an uncommon bacterial infection that comes on slowly and can last for a long time. It can look like a lot of other illnesses, so it’s important to see a healthcare provider to get properly diagnosed and treated. Brucellosis usually isn’t serious, but it can infect your bones and organs, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your symptoms. Don’t hesitate to contact your provider if you have any new or worrisome symptoms.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/22/2022.
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