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Brucellosis – how dangerous is it?

Set of different dairy products isolated on white
Brucellosis is most frequently transmitted via unpasteurized dairy products

 

Zoonotic diseases seem to be keeping the world on its toes. What is the disease responsible for the latest outbreak in China and what is its pathogenic potential?

Not the next COVID-19

Brucellosis is a category B bioterror disease, as classed by CDC. While it is one of the most important zoonotic diseases worldwide, brucellosis has limited pandemic potential, since human-to-human transmission is sporadic and occurs via blood, sexual exposure, or breastfeeding. 

63% of cross-border events since 1965 were directly linked to the consumption of unpasteurized dairy products. The largest ever reported outbreak took place in the province of Ghardaia, Algeria, in 2016. During that time, 819 cases were recorded – health authorities suspected consumption of raw milk and a popular traditional cheese “Kamaria” may have been to blame. Epizootics (outbreaks among animals) can be much larger.  Over 40,000 cattle acquired the disease during an outbreak in Spain in 2010. 

 

Brucellosis outbreaks and distribution map, 1938 - 2019
Brucellosis outbreaks and distribution map, 1938 – 2019

 

What are the symptoms of Brucellosis?

Initial symptoms include fever, sweats, and pain in muscles and joints;  while protracted infections may involve the heart valves, liver, or testicles.

Occupational hazard

The outbreak in China occurred among biopharmaceutical plant workers; and several prior disease clusters have involved workers in hospital laboratories.  For this reason, individuals working with Brucella must be especially careful when handling this pathogen.

For instance, in 2007, a biodefence laboratory in the United States was closed after workers were exposed to two bioterror agents: Brucella (agent of Brucellosis) and Coxiella burnetii (agent of Q fever).  Fortunately, this incident did not result in an actual outbreak. Professionals working in such environments are well-prepared for the possibility of similar scenarios and will likely behave in a way that minimizes any risks to public health. 

Interested in learning more? Check out our ebook Brucellosis: Global Status for the latest epidemiological data, clinical findings, and potential use in bioterrorism. The ebook includes 175 graphs and 1,977 references. 

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