Brucellosis: Disease you get from infected milk

Dear Daktari, Thank you for your informative articles. I have a query. I started feeling fevers, which would come and go. I first suspected malaria but after it persisted even after I had finished my dose, I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with brucellosis. My doctor told me it is mostly gotten from cow milk. A month early my cow had aborted and its milk production greatly reduced thereafter. After reading online on this disease, it occurred to me I could have picked the disease from my cow. Please educate us on this disease. [Nicholas Wafula, Bungoma County]

Thank you Wafula for volunteering to share your experience. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease, which most people confuse with malaria. It is not good to self-medicate. Whenever you are sick always, visit your doctor for treatment. This will also help us prevent the problem of Antimicrobial resistance. 

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that affects cattle and causes great economic losses. Abortion is the commonest clinical sign in cows. The disease spreads very fast within a herd. A cow that is infected and not treated may carry the disease.  In human beings, the disease presents with fever. Brucellosis is spread through consumption of infected milk – drinking raw or unpasteurised milk and consumption of raw or contaminated dairy products, eating of undercooked meat and meat products from infected animals and contact with infected aborted feotuses. 

How is the disease spread?

An infected animal will spread brucellosis causing bacteria through milk and this can happen for a long period. Transmission occurs through ingestion of brucellosis causing bacteria, which is present in aborted feotuses, feotal membranes and vaginal discharges from an affected animal. These organisms contaminate water, animal feeds from where they are ingested. Infected bulls will spread the disease during mating. However, artificial insemination can also spread the disease when the equipment used are contaminated. To confirm the diagnosis, lab tests should be done on milk, vaginal discharges and feotal membranes from an animal suspected to be suffering from brucellosis.

Treatment and prevention

In countries where this disease is eliminated, imported animals are quarantined and tested. They have to test negative before they can be mixed with the herd. Protecting the none infected herd is a prevention strategy employed in such countries. Vaccines against brucellosis are available. Quarantine and movement controls are used to contain spread of the disease in outbreaks. Sanitary measures like handling of infected materials using personal protective equipment can minimise the spread.

[Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO]

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