What you need to know about brucellosis

Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that affects thousands of people worldwide. Avoiding unpasteurised dairy products and taking precautions when working with animals or in a laboratory can help prevent brucellosis. / Net photo

Doctors say that brucellosis symptoms can start anywhere from five days to six months after exposure. People who are infected but are not treated can go on to develop more serious complications like arthritis, heart problems, enlargement of the spleen or liver, and, in rare cases, nervous system problems, like meningitis, among others.

Dr Joseph Ryarasa Nkurunziza, the chairperson of Heath Development Initiative, says that human beings got to know about the brucellosis disease in the 20th Century. It is caused by Brucella, germs that reside inside the body cells of an affected animal.  

He says brucellosis is a highly contagious zoonosis contracted by the ingestion of contaminated food, which can include raw meat and unpasteurised milk. It can also be contracted by close contact with the animal secretions. 

“Brucellosis is a bacterial disease caused by various Brucella species, which mainly infect cattle, swine, goats, sheep, and dogs. Humans generally acquire the disease through direct contact with infected animals, by eating or drinking contaminated animal products, or by inhaling airborne agents. 

“The majority of cases are caused by ingesting unpasteurised milk or cheese from infected goats or sheep. Person-to-person transmission is rare. The disease causes flu-like symptoms, including weakness, malaise, and weight loss,” states the World Health Organization (WHO).

Nkurunziza says the good news is that brucellosis can be treated and should you have these symptoms (joint and muscle pain, fatigue, headaches, or stomach pain, appetite loss, back pain, chills, tiredness, headaches, pain in the abdomen, and a fever that comes and goes), please visit your doctor, who will diagnose your blood or carry out an x-ray. Once proved that you have brucellosis, the treatment will be administered through antibiotics, but remember, relapse is common, so it’s advisable to finish your dose and keep checking in with the doctor.  

He says brucellosis is preventable. To lower your chances of getting it, you are encouraged to avoid consuming raw meat or unpasteurised milk, cheese, and ice cream, wear gloves and protective glasses when handling animals or animal tissues, cover any open wounds on your skin when coming into contact with animal blood.

“Wear protective clothing and gloves when helping animals give birth. There is a brucellosis vaccine for animals. If you work with domestic animals, you should consider vaccinating them for brucellosis. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for brucellosis in humans. That’s why it’s important to take other steps to protect yourself from the bacteria,” Nkurunziza notes.

“So, as you get close to your cows, dogs, goats, swine, be very careful, you could be at risk of getting infected with brucellosis,” he says.

Research shows that a variety of animals can contract brucellosis, including goats, cattle, and dogs. Humans can then get the disease from infected animals. The bacteria can be transmitted through ingestion (eating), inhalation (breathing), or contact with an open wound. This is why you have a higher chance of getting brucellosis if you spend a lot of time around animals. The risk is mostly high for people who come in contact with animal urine, blood, or tissue. The animal placenta may also be infected with Brucella bacteria. You may be exposed to the bacteria if you help an animal give birth. Luckily, brucellosis is rarely spread through casual contact with pets.

Nkurunziza explains if you have flu-like symptoms and have been exposed to animals that might have brucellosis, testing may include; blood, urine, bone marrow, cerebrospinal fluid, and testing for antibodies to brucellosis. Exposure doesn’t need to be recent. You could have brucellosis even if your contact with animals occurred months ago. If you get this disease, it can take anywhere from one week to two months for symptoms to appear.

Health experts say brucellosis during pregnancy is associated with poor feta prognosis with a high rate of miscarriage, prematurity, and foetal death.


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