Alphonse Majyambere, 35, a resident of Gikondo, a Kigali city suburb, experienced a cocktail of symptoms ranging, from fever, chills, weakness, fatigue, head ache, joint, muscle and back pain. But this state was on and off, one month he would feel fine, and the other drained.
Many times he went to hospital, and screened for malaria, typhoid, and HIV, but the results were always negative.
For about four years he resigned to fate, dismissing the condition as ordinary flu. When he visited a clinic in the neighbourhood, he was diagnosed with Brucellosis.
What is Brucellosis?
Brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Brucella. The bacteria can spread from animals to humans.
There are several different strains of Brucella bacteria. Some types are seen in cows. Others occur in dogs, pigs, sheep, goats, and camels.
Severe brucellosis may cause infection of the central nervous system, Endocarditis (infection of the lining of the heart or valves) and liver abscess. It can also cause long-lasting symptoms that are similar to chronic fatigue syndrome.
How it spreads
Olivier Manzi, an infectious diseases specialist with the University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says that Brucella (the bacteria) can be transmitted through eating raw or half cooked meat from infected animals. It can also be through animal products like milk, ghee, ice cream and butter.
Alfred Gatabarwa, a general practitioner with Abbey Family Clinic, Remera points out that Brucella can also be spread through air. Adding that farmers, laboratory technicians, and slaughterhouse workers are always at risk.
He warns that direct contact with blood, semen or placenta of an infected animal also exposes one to the disease, as bacteria can enter ones bloodstream through a cut or wound. Gatabarwa, however, emphasizes that normal contact with animals like touching, washing or playing doesn’t cause infection.
He explains that in normal cases, the disease doesn’t spread from person to person, but in a few cases, women have passed the disease to their infants during birth or through breastfeeding. Rarely, brucellosis may spread through sexual activity or through contaminated blood or bone marrow transfusions.
Audrey Mutabazi, the director of Gasp, a food science consultancy based in Nyarutarama, says that it is important to avoid consuming any raw dairy products; one should ensure that milk is well boiled before consumption, and desist from unpasteurized milk, cheese and ice cream.
“Cook meat thoroughly until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 to 165 F (63 to 74 C). When travelling, avoid buying meat from street vendors,” he advises.
He adds that if you’re a veterinarian, farmer, or slaughterhouse worker, wear rubber gloves when helping an animal to give birth, handling sick or dead animals.
Gatabarwa adds that since there is a vaccine to prevent the disease in animals, it is crucial to vaccinate all domestic animals in one’s home, to reduce risk of transmitting it to humans.
According to medics, tests can be done to look for samples of bacteria in blood, bone marrow, and other body fluids, and this helps identify the type of Bacteria.
Manzi remarks that Brucellosis can be difficult to treat. Usually ones doctor will prescribe antibiotics, usually more than one kind, and treatment goes for a period not more than 6 months.
Death from brucellosis is rare, occurring in no more than 2% of all cases.