Brucellosis

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What is brucellosis?

Brucellosis is in infectious disease caused by bacteria in the genus Brucella. Brucella are aerobic, gram-negative coccobacilli. Brucellosis is a zoonotic infection (meaning the disease occurs mainly in animals but is occasionally transferred to humans). Brucellosis has been known by various names such as Mediterranean fever, Malta fever, undulant fever, Crimean fever, Bang's disease, and gastric remittent fever. Brucellosis is found in North-American wild animals (elk, bison) and is occasionally found in domesticated animals (cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats). The major species of the genus Brucella that cause the disease are B. melitensis, B. suis, B. abortus, and B. canis; these are associated with sheep, pigs, cattle, and dogs respectively. The most pathogenic (likely to cause disease) species are B. melitensis and B. suis.

What is the history of brucellosis?

Brucellosis was thought to be first described by Hippocrates and the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. In 1887, Dr. David Bruce isolated the organisms from patients who were living on the island of Malta (hence the name Malta fever). The disease was eventually named after Dr. Bruce (brucellosis). The disease has been found worldwide, and high-risk areas include the Mediterranean countries, South and Central America, Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. Fortunately, there are only about 100-200 people infected per year in the United States. California and Texas have the highest infection rates.

Strains of highly pathogenic Brucella have been considered to be used as a biological weapon because the organisms can be aerosolized and then easily inhaled.

What are causes of brucellosis?

The cause of brucellosis is bacterial. Brucella bacteria can enter the human body through mucous membranes, breaks in the skin, the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and even the conjunctiva. Unfortunately, these organisms can survive reasonably well within the body's cells, including different types of cells. These bacteria can be transported within the human cells via the lymphatic system or in the bloodstream to other organs. Any organ system can be involved, and both localized and systemic (body-wide) infections may occur. The bacteria can also replicate inside host cells and then be released when the cell dies. These bacteria go on to spread the infection to other human cells.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/23/2015

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