Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that originates in animals, which can cause long-lasting flu-like symptoms. It is rare in most developed countries.
In mainland Britain, brucellosis has been wiped out from cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs through the vaccination of animals, the test and slaughter of infected herds and the pasteurisation of milk.
However, it is still a problem globally: brucellosis is the most common zoonotic infection in the world ('zoonosis' means a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans).
Brucellosis is a problem in:
If you are travelling to one of these areas, do not consume unpasteurised milk or milk products.
There is no human vaccine to protect you against brucellosis.
Humans usually become infected with brucellosis in one of the following ways:
Person-to-person spread is rare, although there have been cases of transmission from mother to baby through breastfeeding, and through sexual contact.
People at higher risk of brucellosis are laboratory workers, veterinarians, farmers and abattoir workers.
Brucellosis doesn't always cause symptoms – the infection may persist for several months without you even knowing.
When it does cause symptoms, they tend to last a long time. Typical symptoms include:
In some people, symptoms will develop suddenly over one to two weeks.
In others, symptoms may come on gradually and be persistent or relapsing (returning again and again), lasting for years.
It can occasionally take up to six months for the disease to show.
Brucellosis is usually diagnosed by your doctor taking a blood sample and sending this to a laboratory. The blood sample is tested for the antibodies against the brucellosis bacteria.
Brucellosis is treated with two or more different antibiotics, such as doxycycline with gentamicine or doxycycline with rifampicin.
The combination prescribed will vary depending on your age and the severity of the disease.
Brucellosis can make you feel very ill and be long-lasting, however, it is rarely fatal in humans.
Most people recover completely without complications after antibiotic treatment.
However, if left untreated, up to 2% of patients may develop endocarditis (infection of the heart), which can be fatal.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.