Last updated: October 2020
– Brucellosis is a zoonosis that mainly affects livestock animals.
– The main routes of transmission to humans are:
• digestive, by ingestion of unpasteurized milk (or unpasteurized milk products) from an infected animal;
• cutaneous, by direct contact with infected animals or carcasses of infected animals.
– Brucellosis is caused by bacteria of the genus Brucella, particularly B. melitensis (sheep and goats), B. abortus (cattle), B. suis (pigs).
– The disease is found worldwide and mainly in rural areas.
– After primary infection relapses may occur (5 to 15% of cases, even months after end of initial treatment) or the infection may become chronic.
Acute form (primary infection)
– Remittent or intermittent fever (39-40 °C), associated with several signs or symptoms: chills, night sweats, joint and muscle pain, weight loss, fatigue, malaise, headache; adenopathies (particularly in children).
– May be associated with: non-specific gastrointestinal disorders, cough, hepato and/or splenomegaly, arthritis (knee), orchitis.
Diagnosis is difficult because of the broad spectrum of fluctuating and non-specific clinical manifestations. In patients with unexplained fever, brucellosis should be considered when risk factors are present: consumption of unpasteurized milk products; exposure to livestock (e.g. livestock farmers, veterinarians, butchers, slaughterhouse workers).
Primary infection may progress to localised infection (even several months or years later), mainly:
– osteoarticular: sacroiliac joint and often particularly lower limbs joints; spine (intervertebral disk infection, vertebral osteomyelitis)
– genito-urinary: orchitis, epididymitis
– pulmonary: bronchitis, pneumonia, pleurisy
– neurological : meningitis, encephalitis, polyneuritis
− Blood culture is the gold standard for diagnosis. It is positive only in the acute phase. The bacteria grow slowly (7 to 21 days).
– Serological tests (Rose Bengal, Wright agglutination test, indirect immunofluorescence, ELISA, etc.) provide presumptive diagnoses.
– In the event of neurological signs or meningitis, lumbar puncture shows clear cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that may contain high white blood cell count; high protein concentration in CSF; low CSF glucose.
– Rule out malaria in endemic regions (rapid test).
– Exclude tuberculosis if cough > 2 weeks (sputum smear microscopy).
− Joint pain (hips, knees, ankles, vertebrae, sacroiliac joint): small erosions or destruction or joint space narrowing. Often involves the spine, particularly the lumbar spine, causing spondylodiskitis.
− Pulmonary signs: chest x-ray often normal. There may be consolidation, nodules, lymphadenopathy, or pleural effusion.
Check national recommendations on antibiotic therapy. For information:
Children under 8 years
co-trimoxazole + rifampicin
Children 8 years and over
doxycycline + rifampicin
doxycycline + rifampicin
co-trimoxazole PO for 6 weeks
doxycycline PO for 6 weeks
rifampicin PO for 6 weeks
gentamicin IM for 2 weeks
streptomycin IM for 2 weeks
For localised forms of the infection, same treatment but for a period of 6 weeks to 4 months depending on the focus.
– Washing of hands and clothing if in contact with animals.
– Boil milk, avoid ingestion of unpasteurized milk products, cook offal thoroughly.