Brucellosis: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment

Brucellosis

Brucellosis is a bacterial infection caused by different strains of Brucella bacteria. It mainly affects the livestock and then transmitted to humans when a person comes into contact with infected cattle, sheep, goat, swine, horses or pigs. It is a notifiable disease. Brucella is highly contagious and spreads very easily among the cattle as the calf membranes and uterine fluids all contain large quantities of bacteria.

If you experience prolonged fever, joint pain, or flu-like symptoms, especially if you work with livestock or consume unpasteurized dairy, consult with an Infectious Disease specialist or a General Practitioner in the Internal Medicine department to explore the possibility of Brucellosis.

Causes

Brucellosis is a bacterial infection caused by different strains of Brucella bacteria i.e. Brucella abortus (from cattle), Brucella melitensis (from sheep), Brucella suis (from pigs) and Brucella canis (from dogs). These bacteria mainly infect the cattle, goats, sheep, swine, horses and dogs. It can also affect rats and other wild animals. Brucellosis is also known by many other names like undulant fever, remitting fever, Mediterranean fever, Maltese fever, Gibraltar fever, Crimean fever, goat fever and Bang disease.

Risk Factors

The disease is transmitted from animals to humans by either drinking unpasteurized milk, cheese/ raw dairy products from an infected cattle or ingestion of under-cooked meat, or inhalation of bacteria (this is more common among people working in laboratories, slaughter house workers and meat packing employees, veterinarians). Bacteria may also enter into a human body through skin wounds and mucous membranes which is more common in slaughter houses and veterinarians as they come into contact with new born animals, fetuses and excretions. Spread of brucellosis from person to person is rare. Although, breastfeeding mothers who are infected with brucellosis may transmit the infection to their infants. While it is uncommon, transmission may also occur through blood transfusions or via tissue transplantation.

Symptoms

Brucellosis is a serious infection that can have a significant impact on an individual's health. It is important to be aware of the symptoms and to seek medical attention as soon as a person may have been exposed to the bacteria. While the symptoms of brucellosis remain non-specific, a few individuals may have no apparent symptoms I.e. they may remain asymptomatic. The symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the infection. The incubation period ranges from 1-3 weeks to several months. Individuals experiencing sudden onset of symptoms is called as acute brucellosis, whereas, individuals in whom brucellosis last for more than a year is called as chronic brucellosis. In acute phase the sudden onset of symptoms develop in a span of 1 -2 days, whereas in a few cases, the symptoms may develop over a span of few weeks. Some common symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, and fatigue. Other symptoms may include joint pain, headache, loss of appetite, night sweats, weight loss, back pain, dry cough and constipation. In some cases, it is characterized by repetitive episodes of fever for more than a year. Additional symptoms includes enlargement of spleen, swollen lymph nodes. In a few cases brucellosis affects a specific area of the body, in which case it is known as localized brucellosis. This condition causes inflammation of the affected area like bones, skin, liver, heart, genitourinary (causes inflammation of kidneys and cause interstitial nephritis, inflammation of prostate i.e. prostitis, inflammation and pain of testis i.e. epididymo orchitis ) and gastrointestinal tract (may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and weight loss) and central nervous system (affects brain- causes neurobrucellosis i.e. Inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord). Most common form of localized brucellosis is osteomyelitis of lumbar vertebrae which causes inflammation and pain in the lower back area. Less common symptoms of brucellosis includes increased intracranial pressure, leakage of CSF into optic disk of eye and finally resulting in blurring of vision, damage to the optic nerve which finally leads to loos of vision, bleeding in the brain and stroke. Brucellosis leading to severe complications such as meningitis, endocarditis, or osteomyelitis may require additional treatment and can have long-term effects on the patient's health. It is important for individuals who work with animals or are at high risk of exposure to be aware of the potential risks and to take necessary precautions to prevent infection. In rare cases, brucellosis can also lead to chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and other psychiatric disorders. These long-term effects can significantly impact the patient's quality of life and may require ongoing medical care.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of brucellosis is usually done through a few blood tests. In some cases, a bone marrow or tissue sample and body fluids may be taken to confirm the diagnosis. Blood tests can also be performed to detect antibodies against the bacteria.

Treatments

Treatment for brucellosis usually involves a combination of antibiotics. The duration of the treatment may vary depending on the severity of the infection and the patient's response to the medication. In some cases, patients may experience relapse even after completing the treatment.

Preventive Measures

The best way to prevent the infection with brucellosis is not to consume under-cooked meat. Do not eat or drink any dairy products made from unpasteurized milk/ cheese. Individuals working in close contact with animals or animal tissues and high-risk settings should always wear proper personal protective equipment's(PPE) like rubber gloves, goggles, aprons or gowns which ensures that the bacteria from an infected animal do not enter into human body by skin abrasion or fluid exposure to eyes.

Do's & Don’t's

Do's Don't 
Be aware of brucellosis symptoms and seek medical attention if exposed to the bacteria.  Do not neglect the seriousness of the illness; seek medical attention promptly. 
No special diet is required during brucellosis treatment.  Do not self-medicate based on symptoms; consult a healthcare professional for proper treatment. 
Avoid consuming raw or under-cooked meat.  Consume unpasteurized dairy products, Neglect proper cooking practices for meat.
Take precautions to ensure that milk is boiled to a high temperature for a certain period.  Ignore the importance of pasteurization, Underestimate the impact of brucellosis on health.


If you experience prolonged fever, joint pain, or flu-like symptoms, especially if you work with livestock or consume unpasteurized dairy, consult with an Infectious Disease specialist or a General Practitioner in the Internal Medicine department to explore the possibility of Brucellosis.

Frequently Asked Questions
Brucellosis is a bacterial infection caused by various species of the Brucella bacteria. It primarily affects animals but can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with infected animals or consumption of unpasteurized dairy products.
Humans can contract brucellosis through contact with infected animals, consuming contaminated dairy products, inhalation of airborne particles, or exposure to infected tissues or fluids.
Symptoms can include fever, sweats, malaise, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, headache, and in severe cases, organ involvement like the liver, spleen, or heart.
Diagnosis involves blood tests, cultures, or other laboratory tests to detect the presence of Brucella bacteria or antibodies.
Antibiotics, typically a combination of antibiotics, are used to treat brucellosis. The course of treatment can be lengthy, and it's important to complete the prescribed medication regimen.
Preventive measures include practicing good hygiene when handling animals, consuming only pasteurized dairy products, wearing protective gear when in contact with potentially infected animals or tissues, and vaccination of animals in endemic areas.
Human-to-human transmission is rare, but it can occur through blood transfusions, organ transplants, or from an infected mother to her unborn child during pregnancy.
People who work closely with animals such as veterinarians, farmers, slaughterhouse workers, and laboratory personnel handling infected materials are at a higher risk.
Brucellosis is widespread in many parts of the world and poses a significant economic burden due to its impact on animal health, decreased productivity, and potential human infections.
Chronic brucellosis can lead to complications affecting the bones, joints, heart, and other organs if not treated promptly and adequately.
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