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Diseases & Topics

Brucellosis

Brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by Brucella bacteria. The disease primarily affects sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, deer, elk and dogs. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease — it can be spread from infected animals to people. Humans become infected by coming in contact with animals or animal products contaminated with the bacteria.

In humans, brucellosis can cause symptoms that are similar to the flu, including fever, sweats, headaches, back pains and physical weakness. Severe infections of the central nervous system or of the lining of the heart (endocarditis) may occur. Brucellosis can also cause long-lasting or chronic symptoms such as recurrent fevers, joint pain and fatigue. People are generally infected in one of three ways: eating or drinking unpasteurized/raw dairy products( i.e. milk, cheese, etc.) from infected cows, goats, sheep or camels or products from infected feral swine, breathing in the bacteria (inhalation), or having the bacteria enter the body through skin wounds.

In the United States, there are only about 100-200 reported cases of brucellosis a year, usually as a result of foreign travel, consuming unpasteurized dairy products, or hunting and dressing feral swine (wild pigs that are not commercial livestock). The most common way to be infected is by eating or drinking unpasteurized or raw milk products. Among slaughterhouse employees, inhalation is responsible for a significant percentage of cases. Contamination of skin wounds may be a problem for veterinarians, workers in slaughterhouses and meat packing plants, and people involved in the birthing process of infected animals. Hunters may be infected through skin wounds or by accidentally ingesting the bacteria after cleaning deer, elk, moose or wild pigs that they have killed or by consuming undercooked meat from these animals.

There is no vaccine available for humans. Treatment with antibiotics can be extensive and difficult and involve a long recovery time. To prevent brucellosis, do not consume unpasteurized dairy products such as milk, cheese or ice cream while traveling — the disease is more common in countries that do not have good standardized and effective public health and domestic animal health programs. If you are not sure that a dairy product is pasteurized, don't eat it. Hunters, farmers and workers in slaughterhouses should use rubber gloves and protective clothing when handling animal carcasses, excreta, afterbirth and other animal products that may be infected.

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