Brucellosis is an infectious bacterial disease which is caused by Brucella bacteria. It is also zoonotic, meaning that it can be transmitted between humans and animals, with cows, dogs, sheep, and goats all being at risk of infection. Thanks to improved sanitation and sterilization, brucellosis is relatively rare in humans, and vaccines are used to prevent it in many farm animals, but cases and outbreaks do crop up now and then.
In order to get this disease, one must be exposed to the bacteria in some way. One of the most common ways to get the disease is through eating contaminated animal products like dairy and meat, but it can also be contracted through breathing the bacteria, or if the bacteria are introduced to an open wound. The symptoms include fever, malaise, and headache, and in animals, newly infected individuals often experience spontaneous abortions.
Brucellosis is sometimes called “Bang's Disease,” after veterinarian Bernhard Bang, who isolated the responsible bacterium in 1897. It is also referred to as ungulate fever, Gibraltar fever, Malta fever, and rock fever. Because the symptoms are fairly generic and hard to pin down, sometimes it takes a while for a correct diagnosis to be reached, especially in areas where the disease is not common. As a result, it is important to disclose information about eating and traveling habits when going to the doctor for general malaise, as these can help narrow down the cause of the problem.
Brucellosis is very difficult to treat, because the bacteria are quite stubborn. A variety of antibiotics may be used in a course of treatment, with periodic tests to see if the bacteria are still present. The mortality rate from the condition is actually relatively low; most people who die from the infection do so because the bacteria infect the valves of the heart. However, because the condition is unpleasant and inconvenient, seeking treatment is a good idea.
In animals like cattle, brucellosis can be prevented with the use of vaccines. This has brought the overall infection rate down, as animals can't pass the infection on if they don't have it. The use of pasteurization to treat dairy products has also helped to reduce the risk, as have guidelines on cooking meat which stress safe cooking temperatures. However, the disease is endemic in some parts of the Mediterranean and the developing world, which is a good thing to keep in mind when traveling.