What is undulant fever?

Undulant fever, also called brucellosis, is an infectious disease caused by bacteria.

People can get the disease when they are in contact with infected animals or animal products contaminated with the bacteria. Animals that are most commonly infected include sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, and dogs, among others.

Signs & symptoms

Initial symptoms can include:

  • fever
  • sweats
  • malaise
  • anorexia
  • headache
  • pain in muscles, joint, and/or back
  • fatigue

Some signs and symptoms may persist for longer periods of time. Others may never go away or reoccur.

These can include:

  • recurrent fevers
  • arthritis
  • swelling of the testicle and scrotum area
  • swelling of the heart (endocarditis)
  • neurologic symptoms (in up to 5% of all cases)
  • chronic fatigue
  • depression
  • swelling of the liver and/or spleen

Treatment

Before treatment begins, a diagnosis of brucellosis infection must be made by a doctor.

Tests will be performed to look for bacteria in samples of blood, bone marrow, or other body fluids. In addition, a blood test can be performed to detect antibodies against the bacteria.

Once a diagnosis is made, a doctor can prescribe antibiotics.

Depending on the timing of treatment and severity of illness, recovery may take a few weeks to several months. Death from brucellosis is rare, occurring in no more than 2% of all cases.

Transmission

  • Eating undercooked meat or consuming unpasteurized/raw dairy products
  • Breathing in the bacteria that cause brucellosis (inhalation)
  • Bacteria entering the body through skin wounds or mucous membranes

Prevention

The best way to prevent brucellosis infection is to be sure you do not consume:

  • undercooked meat
  • unpasteurized dairy products, including:
    • milk
    • cheese
    • ice cream

Pasteurization is when raw milk is heated to a high temperature for a short period of time. This heating process destroys harmful bacteria that may make the milk unsafe to consume.

If you are not sure that the dairy product is pasteurized, do not eat it.

People who handle animal tissues (such as hunters and animal herdsman) should protect themselves by using:

  • rubber gloves
  • goggles
  • gowns or aprons

This will help ensure that bacteria from potentially infected animals do not get into eyes or inside a cut or abrasion on the skin.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.