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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. Recently, scientists have seen new strains in the red fox and certain marine animals, including seals. Brucella in animals cannot be cured.

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Brucellosis is rare in the U.S. because of effective animal disease control programs. Fewer than 200 people get sick with the disease each year in the U.S. It is most often seen in the spring and summer months in:

  • Texas
  • California
  • Virginia
  • Florida

Brucellosis is considered a significant health threat in other parts of the world. The disease has been reported in more than a half-million people each year in 100 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

What Causes Brucellosis?

Brucellosis in humans occurs when a person comes into contact with an animal or animal product infected with the Brucella bacteria.

Very rarely, the bacteria may spread from person to person. Breastfeeding moms with brucellosis may pass the bacteria to their baby. Brucella may also be spread through sexual contact.

The bacteria can enter your body:

  • Through a cut or scratch in the skin
  • When you breathe in contaminated air (rare)
  • When you eat or drink something contaminated with the bacteria, such as unpasteurized milk or undercooked meat

Four types of Brucella bacteria cause the majority of brucellosis infections in humans:

B. melitensis. This type causes most cases of human brucellosis and is mainly found in sheep and goats. It is most often seen in:

  • Spain
  • Greece
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • India

B. suis. This infection found in wild pigs is the most common type of Brucella seen in the U.S. Brucellosis due to this strain most often occurs in the Southeast and California. It also occurs in Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia.

B. canis. The infection from this type of bacteria spreads from dogs. It is most often seen in:

  • North, Central, and South America
  • Japan
  • Central Europe

B. abortus. This infection comes from cattle. It occurs worldwide. It has been wiped out in several European countries, Japan, Israel, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Can I Get Brucellosis From My Dog?

Dogs can become infected with B. canis. Some pet owners have developed brucellosis this way but the disease is usually mild. There is at least one known case of brucellosis spreading to a human by a dog bite. But spreading brucellosis this way is uncommon. Most dogs infected with Brucella do NOT spread the bacteria to their owners.

You are more likely to get brucellosis from an infected dog if you come in contact with blood or other fluids from the animal. Veterinarians have an increased risk of brucellosis.

If you have a weakened immune system due to medications or certain diseases, you should not touch dogs that are infected with Brucella.

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