Infectious Diseases

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Brucellosis

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What is Brucellosis?

Brucella is a group of bacteria that are naturally found in animals including cows, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs, among others. When humans are accidentally exposed to these bacteria it is capable of causing a human illness commonly referred to as Brucellosis.

Brucellosis is not a common illness in Canada because public health measures are taken to reduce the presence of these bacteria in animals and to protect the general public from exposure.

Overseas Brucellosis infection is more common. International travellers should be aware of how to prevent becoming infected when traveling to countries where Brucellosis infection is more common including Europe, Africa, Middle East, India, Mexico, among others.

How is Brucellosis spread?

Brucellosis is spread to humans when they are in direct contact with an infected animal’s blood and body fluids. The bacteria may enter the body through open cuts, skin wounds or mucous membranes. Individuals who work closely with live or slaughtered animals are at a higher risk of being exposed to these bacteria.

Eating or drinking milk and milk products from an infected animal may also expose you to the bacteria. Milk and milk products, including cheese, that are pasteurized are safe to eat and drink.

Inhalation of the bacteria is another way Brucellosis is spread. This is mostly a risk for those who work closely with potentially infected animals, such as farm workers, veterinarians, meat inspectors, abattoir employees or laboratory workers.

Brucellosis is rarely spread from person to person. There is a small risk that infected mothers who are breastfeeding may pass the infection on to their infants. Sexual transmission is also a possibility.

What symptoms should I watch for?

Most people experience fever, headache, weight loss, sweating, chills and fatigue, loss of appetite, generalized aching and joint pain. Symptoms may begin from 5-60 days after you are exposed to the bacteria.

In some cases it may be several months after you are exposed before you develop any symptoms at all. The illness may last days, months or occasionally a year or more if not properly treated. Most individuals will recover from Brucellosis, however in some individuals severe complications may occur including meningitis, endocarditis and osteomyelitis.

What is the treatment for Brucellosis?

Brucellosis can be treated with antibiotics. You may have to take a combination of antibiotics for the treatment to be effective. See your healthcare provider immediately if you suspect you have been exposed to the Brucella bacterium.

How do I protect myself and others?

  • No human vaccine is available.
  • Do not eat or drink unpasteurized milk and milk products (including cheese) from cows, sheep and goats.
  • Boiling milk is effective when pasteurization is not possible.
  • When travelling do not consume unpasteurized milk, cheese or ice cream. If you are unsure whether the dairy product is pasteurized, don’t eat it.
  • Exercise care if involved in handling and disposal of blood, body fluids, placenta, discharges and fetuses of animals. Disinfect contaminated areas with a 1:10 dilution of hypochlorite solution.
  • Hunters should handle animal carcasses properly, including wearing gloves and protective clothing and burying discarded animal remains.

Is there anything special I need to know?

Some occupations put you at greater risk of being exposed to the blood and body fluids of infected animals. Farming, abattoir workers, meat inspectors, veterinarians and laboratory workers are some examples. Wearing disposable or rubber gloves and protective clothing, as well as washing your hands, cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces and having adequate ventilation are some examples of measures you can take to protect yourself from being exposed to the Brucella bacteria at work.

Some species of Brucella can infect dogs, including your family pet. Pet owners are not considered to be at high risk of infection because it is unlikely that you will be in direct contact with their blood and/or body.

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