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Brucellosis

By Larry M. Bush, MD, University of Miami-Miller School of Medicine;Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida Atlantic University

Brucellosis is an infection caused by several species of Brucella bacteria and characterized by fever and bodywide symptoms.

  • Brucellosis is acquired mainly by having contact with infected animals or by consuming unpasteurized contaminated milk or other dairy products.

  • People typically have a fever, chills, a severe headache, low back pain, bone and joint pain, and other bodywide symptoms.

  • Most people recover in 2 to 3 weeks, even without treatment.

  • Doctors base the diagnosis on results of blood tests and cultures.

  • Two antibiotics are given at the same time to increase the chance of a cure.

Brucellosis is acquired mainly by

  • Having direct contact with infected farm animals

  • Consuming unpasteurized contaminated milk or other dairy products

People can also acquire brucellosis if they have contact with infected dogs, deer, moose, buffalo, or other animals.

Brucellosis is rare in the United States, Canada, and Europe but is more common in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Mexico, and Central America. People at increased risk include laboratory workers and people who may handle infected animals or animal tissue, including meat packers, veterinarians, farmers, and livestock producers.

The bacteria can be spread through the air and thus could be used in biological warfare. However, brucellosis is rarely spread from person to person.

Symptoms of Brucellosis

People typically have

  • A fever, which may return repeatedly for months and sometimes years

Other early brucellosis symptoms include chills, night sweats, a severe headache, low back pain, bone and joint pain, and sometimes diarrhea.

Later symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, severe constipation, difficulty sleeping, and depression.

Sometimes infection develops in the brain, tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord (meninges), back bones (vertebrae), long bones (such as the thighbone), joints, or heart valves.

If people do not develop infections in these organs and tissues, they usually recover in 2 to 3 weeks, even without treatment. However, in some, the infection persists.

Diagnosis of Brucellosis

  • Blood tests and culture to check for the bacteria

Doctors take a sample of blood and send it to a laboratory to grow (culture) the bacteria. Usually, doctors also measure antibodies to the bacteria in blood.

Treatment of Brucellosis

  • Two antibiotics given at the same time

Doctors give two antibiotics at the same time to increase the chance of a cure. Usually, one of the antibiotics is doxycycline, given by mouth. The second antibiotic can be either streptomycin or gentamicin, injected daily, or rifampin or ciprofloxacin, given by mouth.

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* This is the Consumer Version. *