Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that spreads from animals to people. Most commonly, people are infected by eating raw or unpasteurized dairy products. Sometimes, the bacteria that cause brucellosis can spread through the air or through direct contact with infected animals.
Signs and symptoms of brucellosis may include fever, joint pain and fatigue. The infection can usually be treated with antibiotics. However, treatment takes several weeks to months, and the infection can recur.
Brucellosis affects hundreds of thousands of people and animals worldwide. Avoiding raw dairy products and taking precautions when working with animals or in a laboratory can help prevent brucellosis.
Symptoms of brucellosis may show up anytime from a few days to a few months after you've been infected. Signs and symptoms are similar to those of the flu and include:
Brucellosis symptoms may disappear for weeks or months and then return. Some people have chronic brucellosis and experience symptoms for years, even after treatment. Long-term signs and symptoms may include:
Brucellosis can be hard to identify, especially in the early stages, when it often resembles other conditions, such as the flu. See your doctor if you develop a rapidly rising fever, muscle aches or unusual weakness and have any risk factors for the disease, or if you have a persistent fever.
Brucellosis affects many wild and domestic animals, including:
A form of brucellosis also affects harbor seals, porpoises and certain whales.
The most common ways that bacteria spread from animals to people are by:
Brucellosis normally doesn't spread from person to person, but in a few cases, women have passed the disease to their children during birth or through their breast milk. Rarely, brucellosis may spread through sexual activity or through contaminated blood or bone marrow transfusions.
While brucellosis is rare in the United States, it is more common in other parts of the world, especially:
People who work with animals or who come into contact with infected blood are at higher risk of brucellosis. Examples include:
Brucellosis can affect almost any part of your body, including your reproductive system, liver, heart and central nervous system. Chronic brucellosis may cause complications in just one organ or throughout your body. Possible complications include:
To reduce the risk of getting brucellosis, take these precautions:
Doctors usually confirm a diagnosis of brucellosis by testing blood or bone marrow for the brucella bacteria or by testing blood for antibodies to the bacteria. To help detect complications of brucellosis, your doctor may order additional tests, including:
Treatment for brucellosis aims to relieve symptoms, prevent a relapse of the disease and avoid complications. You'll need to take antibiotics for at least six weeks, and your symptoms may not go away completely for several months. The disease may also return and become chronic.
If you think you may have brucellosis, you're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. You may be referred to an infectious disease specialist.
A diagnosis of brucellosis depends on understanding whether, how and when you were exposed to the bacteria that cause the disease. You can help your doctor by being prepared with as much information as possible.
Before your appointment, you may want to write a list of answers to the following questions:
During the physical exam, your doctor may: