From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 37 - December 11, 2003
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Facts about Brucellosis
From the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

What is the incubation period of brucellosis?

An incubation period is the interval of time between exposure to an infectious dose of organism and the first appearance of disease signs. The incubation period of brucellosis in cattle, bison, and other animals is quite variable ranging from about 2 weeks to 1 year and even longer in certain instances. When abortion is the first sign observed, the minimum incubation period is about 30 days. Some animals abort before developing a positive reaction to the diagnostic test. Other infected animals may never abort. Generally, infected animals that do not abort develop a positive reaction to the diagnostic test within 30 to 60 days after infection, although some may not develop a positive reaction for several months to over a year.

Can brucellosis in animals be cured?

No. Repeated attempts to develop a cure for brucellosis in animals have failed. Occasionally, animals may recover after a period of time. More commonly, however, only the signs disappear and the animals remain diseased. Such animals are dangerous sources of infection for other animals with which they associate.

Can people get brucellosis by eating meat?

There is no danger from eating cooked meat products because the disease-causing bacteria are not normally found in muscle tissue and they are killed by normal cooking temperatures. The disease may be transmitted to humans when slaughtering infected animals or when processing contaminated organs from freshly killed animals.

What happens when evidence of disease is found by surveillance testing?

Once an infected herd is located, the infection is contained by quarantining all infected and exposed cattle and bison and limiting their movement to slaughter only, until the disease can be eliminated from the herd. Diagnostic tests are used to find all infected cattle and bison. Also, Federal and State animal health officials check neighboring herds and others that may have received animals from the infected herd. All possible leads to additional infection are traced.

What are the signs of brucellosis?

There is no effective way to detect infected animals by their appearance. The most obvious signs in pregnant animals are abortion or birth of weak calves. Milk production may be reduced from changes in the normal lactation period caused by abortions and delayed conceptions. Not all infected cows abort, but those that do usually abort between the fifth and seventh month of pregnancy. Infected cows usually abort once, but a percentage will abort during additional pregnancies, and calves born from later pregnancies may be weak and unhealthy. Even though their calves may appear healthy, infected cows continue to harbor and discharge infectious organisms and should be regarded as dangerous sources of the disease. Other signs of brucellosis include an apparent lowering of fertility with poor conception rates, retained afterbirths with resulting uterine infections, and (occasionally) enlarged, arthritic joints.

How is brucellosis spread?

Brucellosis is commonly transmitted to susceptible animals by direct contact with infected animals or with an environment that has been contaminated with discharges from infected animals. Aborted fetuses, placental membranes or fluids, and other vaginal discharges present after an infected animal has aborted or calved are all highly contaminated with infectious Brucella organisms.

Cows may lick those materials or the genital area of other cows or ingest the disease-causing organisms with contaminated food or water. Despite occasional exceptions, the general rule is that brucellosis is carried from one herd to another by an infected or exposed animal. This mode of transmission occurs when a herd owner buys replacement cattle or bison that are infected or have been exposed to infection prior to purchase. The disease may also be spread when wild animals or animals from an affected herd mingle with brucellosis-free herds.

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