Brucellosis

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Definition

Brucellosis is an infectious disease that occurs from contact with animals carrying brucella bacteria.

Alternative Names

Cyprus fever; Undulant fever; Gibraltar fever; Malta fever; Mediterranean fever

Causes

Brucella can infect cattle, goats, camels, dogs, and pigs. The bacteria can spread to humans if you come in contact with infected meat or the placenta of infected animals, or if you eat or drink unpasteurized milk or cheese.

Brucellosis is rare in the United States. About 100 to 200 cases occur each year. Most cases are caused by the Brucellosis melitensis bacteria.

People working in jobs where they often come in contact with animals or meat -- such as slaughterhouse workers, farmers, and veterinarians -- are at higher risk.

Symptoms

brucellosis may begin with mild symptoms, or symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Chills
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen glands
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

High fever spikes often occur every afternoon. The name undulant fever is often used to describe this disease because the fever rises and falls in waves.

The illness may be chronic and last for years.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. You'll also be asked if you've been in contact with animals or possibly eaten dairy products that were not pasteurized.

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Antibiotics, such as doxycycline, streptomycin, gentamicin, and rifampin, are used to treat the infection and prevent it from coming back. Often, you need to take the drugs for 6 weeks. If there are complications from brucellosis, you will likely need to take the drugs for a longer period.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Symptoms may come and go for years. Also, the illness can come back after a long period of not having symptoms.

Possible Complications

Health problems that may result from brucellosis include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if:

  • You develop symptoms of brucellosis
  • Your symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment
  • You develop new symptoms

Prevention

Drinking and eating only pasteurized dairy products, such as milk and cheeses, is the most important way to reduce the risk of brucellosis. People who handle meat should wear protective eyewear and clothing, and protect skin breaks from infection.

Detecting infected animals controls the infection at its source. Vaccination is available for cattle, but not humans.

References

Beeching NJ, Madkour MM. Brucellosis. In: Farrar J, Hotez PJ, Junghanss T, Kang G, Lalloo D, White NJ, eds. Manson's Tropical Diseases. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 28.

Gul HC, Erdem H. Brucellosis (Brucella species). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 228.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 9/10/2015
  • Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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