(Undulant Fever; Bang’s Disease; Malta Fever)
DefinitionBrucellosis is a rare bacterial disease that causes fevers to come and go.
CausesBrucellosis is caused by specific bacteria that infects domesticated animals. It can be spread to humans through:
- Drinking unpasteurized milk from infected cows, sheep, or goats
- Eating dairy foods from infected cows, sheep, or goats
- Inhaling the bacteria
- Breastfeeding—passed from an infected mother to an infant
- Sexual transmission
- Tissue transplantation
Risk FactorsFactors that increase your risk of getting brucellosis include:
- Working with domesticated animals and livestock, especially sheep, goats, cattle, deer, elk, and pigs, or their waste products, bodily fluids, or carcasses
- Eating undercooked meat products
- Living in or travel to high-risk areas
- Sex: male, possibly due to occupational exposure among farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, people working in tanneries, and slaughterhouse workers
SymptomsSymptoms of brucellosis usually appear within two weeks of infection. Symptoms can appear from five days to several months after infection.In the early stage, symptoms may include:
- Muscle pain
- Severe headache and backache
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Abdominal fullness or discomfort
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Abscesses within the liver or spleen
- Enlargement of the liver, spleen, or lymph nodes
- Inflammation and infection of organs in the body, such as:
- Scrotal swelling
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DiagnosisYour doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.Your doctor may need to test your bodily fluids. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Bone marrow tests
- Spinal fluid tests
- Tissue tests
TreatmentMany people recover from brucellosis on their own. However, early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the risk of complications and infection. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
AntibioticsYour doctor may prescribe one or more antibiotics to control and prevent brucellosis. Antibiotics are given for up to six weeks.
SurgerySurgery may be needed in people with abscesses or an infection that does not respond to antibiotics.
PreventionTo help reduce your chances of getting brucellosis, take the following steps:
- Avoid eating or drinking unpasteurized milk and dairy foods. If you are unsure if a dairy product is pasteurized, don’t eat it.
- Wear rubber gloves and goggles, and securely cover open wounds when handling domesticated animals including their fluids, waste products, or carcasses.
- Wear a protective mask when dealing with brucellosis cultures in a laboratory.
- Have cattle and bison that live in areas heavily infected with brucellosis vaccinated by an accredited veterinarian or government health official. The vaccine contains a live virus and is dangerous to humans. For best results, calves should be vaccinated when they are 4-6 months old. There is no brucellosis vaccine for humans as of yet.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
United States Department of Agriculture
Public Health Agency of Canada
Brucellosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/brucellosis. Updated November 12, 2012. Accessed August 6, 2013.
Brucellosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 30, 2013. Accessed August 6, 2013.
Patel PJ, Kolawole TM, et al. Sonographic findings in scrotal brucellosis. J Clin Ultrasound. 1988;16:483-486.
- Reviewer: David L. Horn, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 05/2014
- Update Date: 06/20/2014