Brucellosis risks for ranchers

Jun 21, 2013
by WLJ

Brucellosis is an infectious zoonotic disease that can affect cattle, goats, sheep, pigs (including feral swine), and, less commonly, dogs. This disease can also affect humans. Individuals that are at a higher risk of contracting brucellosis include farmers, ranchers, veterinarians and slaughterhouse workers.

Brucellosis can be spread in a number of ways. Contamination of skin wounds by bacteria can occur in people who work directly with animals. Brucellosis can also be transmitted to humans who come into contact with infected animal products—such as tissue, blood, urine, vaginal discharges, placenta, or abortion products—through breaks in the skin or who drink or eat unpasteurized milk or cheese. Some slaughterhouse workers have contracted the disease by inhaling the bacteria.

While brucellosis can be transferred from animals to people, it is not transmitted from person to person.

In humans, health effects of brucellosis include, but are not limited to: prolonged flu-like illness, abdominal pain, chills, back pain, fatigue, headache, weakness, loss of appetite and weight loss. A fluctuating fever that spikes in the afternoon is also a sign of the disease. In some cases, brucellosis can relapse or become chronic, affecting the heart valves, bones, joints, spleen and liver.

Since brucellosis is now rare in the U.S. due to eradication programs, many health care providers have not seen the disease. Thus, a history of livestock exposure and travel to an area where brucellosis is more common are important pieces of information for diagnosis. Physicians can use several laboratory tests (blood culture, urine test, and so on) to diagnose brucellosis. The common treatment for brucellosis is an antibiotic.

Vaccination is the most effective way of controlling brucellosis among livestock. Farmers and ranchers should manage their herds and identify and treat animals with brucellosis. Anyone working with infected animals should wear personal protective equipment such as rubber gloves and face protection. After working with animals, individuals should wash their hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds and should sanitize environmental surfaces. Anyone with a cut or open wound should cover the area completely so that it cannot be contaminated with the bacteria. The consumption of raw milk and unpasteurized milk products should be avoided. — Extension Service