How to spot brucellosis, what to do if you suspect it and measures to prevent its spread
There are several varieties of brucellosis which affect different species including:
The last outbreak in Great Britain was in cattle in 2004.
Brucellosis is a notifiable disease. That means if you suspect it you must tell the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) immediately. Failure to do so is an offence.
How to spot brucellosis
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
Risk to humans
In humans symptoms can range from mild to severe and include:
- 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 go 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
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.