Brucellosis Symptoms in Humans

Are there brucellosis symptoms in humans?

Although it originates in animals, brucellosis is a bacterial infection which can cause flu-like symptoms in humans which can last for a long time. It is rare for humans to contract the infection in most developed countries, however it can and does occur throughout the US and beyond.

The infection has predominately been eradicated from farm animals such as goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle via vaccination procedures and legislation which permits the slaughter of infected herds.

Despite this, brucellosis is still a global problem and remains one of the most common infections from the animal kingdom to humans on a global scale. Unpasteurized milk is responsible for many transmissions of brucellosis, and it is a particularly problematic health concern in the following areas of the world:

  • Asia
  • Middle East
  • Central America
  • South America
  • Eastern Europe
  • The Mediterranean (Greece, Spain, Turkey, Portugal and the South of France)

What are the signs and symptoms of brucellosis?

Some signs and symptoms can be fast-onset whereas others can take weeks to develop and may be present for a prolonged period of time. Shortly after infection, the following symptoms appear and are commonplace.

Signs and symptoms

  • Excess sweating
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Joint, muscle and back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise

Many of these symptoms are also typical of more common illnesses likes colds and flu, and it is often the case that brucellosis can be misdiagnosed in the early stages as influenza.

Other symptoms have the potential to last for much longer periods of time, and if untreated may continue to reoccur or fail to disappear.

Other symptoms include

  • Recurrent fever
  • Swelling of the scrotum and testicle area in men
  • Swelling of the heart, also known as endocarditis
  • Neurological symptoms (in rare cases)
  • Depression
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Swelling of the spleen or liver
  • Arthritis

How is brucellosis spread in the US?

Despite the fact that there are many practices in place designed to limit or eradicate the transmission of brucellosis in humans, it is estimated that hundreds of people in the US come into contact with the infection on an annual basis. Agricultural workers are at an increased risk of contracting brucellosis as a result of working in close confines with animals and unpasteurized dairy products.

The most common ways to contract brucellosis include

  • Consuming undercooking meat or raw dairy products. When sheep, cows or goats become infected with brucellosis, their milk also becomes contaminated. It is, therefore, safe practice to avoid the consumption of raw animal products.
  • Breathing in the brucellosis bacteria.
  • Inhaling the brucellosis germ – a risk for those working in slaughterhouses, meat-packing facilities, and laboratories – can lead to infection.
  • Allowing the bacteria to enter the body via mucous membranes or skin wounds.
  • Workers in close contact with animals, such as veterinarians, may be at risk of exposure to the bacteria when encountering animal excreta – particularly when facilitating in animal birthing or insemination processes. Those who hunt animals may also be at risk if butchering an animal on-site.
  • Person-to-person transmission of brucellosis is incredibly rare, although there have been a small number of cases where the bacteria has spread from mother to baby via breastfeeding, as well as a smaller number of cases where a partner has passed the infection on via sexual contact.

How is brucellosis treated?

In order to treat the condition effectively, a series of tests should be performed by a qualified health professional in order to detect and diagnose infection. Tests involve looking for the brucellosis bacteria in bone marrow, blood or other fluids.

After diagnosis, the most common form of treatment is antibiotics. Rifampin and doxycycline are the two most common drugs prescribed to fight the infection, although these drugs are not suitable for pregnant women, those who suffer from a reduced immune response, or those who are allergic to certain antibiotics.

How long does it take to recover from brucellosis?

Individual cases will vary dependent on the severity of the illness and the timing of treatment, but most people who encounter a brucellosis infection can expect to recover between three weeks and three months. Death from the condition is rare, with less than 2% of cases proving fatal.

Last Reviewed:
August 18, 2017
Last Updated:
October 19, 2017