Brucellosis: how to spot and report the disease

How to spot brucellosis, what to do if you suspect it and measures to prevent its spread

Applies to England, Scotland and Wales

There are several varieties of brucellosis which affect different species including:

  • cattle
  • sheep
  • goats
  • pigs
  • humans

The last outbreak in Great Britain was in cattle in 2004.

Brucellosis is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect it you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.

How to spot brucellosis

In cattle

In cattle, the main signs of brucellosis are abortions and premature calf birth.

In sheep and goats

In sheep and goats the main signs of brucellosis are:

  • abortions in the herd
  • swollen udders due to infection of the mammary glands (milk producing organs)
  • swollen testicles
  • nervousness
  • fever

Risk to humans

In humans symptoms can range from mild to severe and include:

  • fever
  • headaches
  • muscle and joint pain
  • extreme tiredness.

The illness can become chronic (long lasting) and a small number of patients may die.

You should contact a doctor for advice about treatment if you develop these symptoms.

How brucellosis is spread

The disease is spread by contact with infected material that contains the bacteria.

For humans this can include:

  • contact with the placenta of infected animals after they give birth or have abortions (the placenta is a blood filled organ formed on the wall of the womb during pregnancy)
  • contact with discharge from genitals of infected animals
  • drinking raw (unpasteurised) milk or eating dairy products made from raw milk of infected animals

For animals this can include:

  • drinking water or eating feed that has been contaminated with the bacteria
  • licking discharge from the genitals of infected animals
  • drinking milk of an infected animal

Preventing and controlling brucellosis

You can help prevent the disease by practising strict biosecurity on your premises, especially when handling aborted foetuses.

Preventative measures for cattle and dairy farmers

You must tell your nearest APHA office if one of your animals has an abortion so that APHA can investigate.

If you sell milk from your farm directly to customers or local shops APHA will collect and test samples of your milk.

APHA may also test cattle for the disease:

  • as part of its annual herd testing programme
  • after cattle give birth
  • when imported cattle arrive in the UK

APHA will contact you if it is going to test your animals as part of this programme.

Preventative measures for sheep and goat farmers

APHA tests a representative sample of sheep and goats for the disease every year.

You will be contacted if APHA needs to test your animals

Preventative measures for milk wholesalers

If you are a milk wholesaler (you purchase milk from farms and sell it to retailers) you must submit quarterly milk samples from your bulk tanks to APHA for testing.

Find out how to take bulk milk samples.

Suspicion or confirmation

APHA vets will investigate any suspected cases of the disease

If brucellosis is confirmed the outbreak will be controlled in line with the contingency plan for exotic notifiable diseases.

Further information on prevention and control

Controls to prevent disease

What happens when a notifiable disease is suspected or confirmed

Key legislation relating to brucellosis

Brucellosis is covered by the Specified Diseases (Notification and Slaughter) Order 1992 and the Specified Diseases (Notification) Order 1996.

Brucellosis is also covered by EU Council Directive 91/68.

Published 26 August 2014
Last updated 18 October 2018 + show all updates
  1. Contact details for reporting a notifiable disease updated.

  2. AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

  3. First published.