Brucellosis in animals

Page last updated: Thursday, 22 March 2018 - 11:05am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Brucellosis is an economically important bacterial disease of animals that can also affect people.

Brucellosis, except for Brucella ovis in sheep, is a reportable disease in Australia. Importing countries often require proof of freedom from reportable brucellosis. If you suspect brucellosis, contact your local department Veterinary Officer, your private veterinarian or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888.

Australia is free of B. abortus, B. melitensis and B. canis. B. suis is present in Australia but has never been diagnosed in Western Australian livestock.

Brucellosis is a disease that can cause severe economic loss for affected livestock properties. The most common signs of a Brucella infection are abortion, usually during the last third of pregnancy, and inflammation of the epididymis (the vessel which transports semen from the testes) in the male.

While WA is free from the reportable forms of brucellosis (B. abortus, B. melitensis, B. suis and B. canis), we carry out surveillance to provide proof that WA is free of these diseases. This surveillance is essential for market access for livestock and livestock products and to protect human health.

Brucellosis can affect people

Brucellosis is a significant zoonosis (disease of animals that people can catch) transmitted by direct contact with infected animals and/or their secretions, or by consuming unpasteurised milk and dairy products in countries where brucellosis occurs. Animals are most infectious after either abortion or giving birth at full-term. Ovine brucellosis, caused by B. ovis, is not zoonotic.

Animal handlers are advised to wear gloves, protective clothing, cover cuts and abrasions, and wash hands carefully whenever handling birthing animals, or after abortion, to minimise the risks of possible zoonoses.

How to report brucellosis

Brucellosis is a reportable disease in WA, except for B. ovis in sheep.

If you see signs of disease that could be brucellosis, contact your local department Veterinary Officer, your private veterinarian or the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888 immediately. Reporting possible signs of brucellosis protects human health and our livestock markets. Your nearest DPIRD veterinary contact can be found on the Livestock biosecurity program contacts page.

Brucella abortus

B. abortus causes a highly contagious disease in cattle resulting in late-term abortion and infertility. It is usually transmitted between animals and to people by contact with the placenta, fetus, fetal fluids and vaginal discharges from infected animals.

Australia is free of B. abortus as a result of a national eradication program that operated between 1970-1989. Ongoing surveillance for the disease continues to demonstrate that we are free of the disease.

B. abortus may cause the serious disease, undulant fever, in people.

Brucella melitensis

B. melitensis can affect most domestic animals, but goats and sheep are especially susceptible. It mainly causes abortions, stillbirths and weak offspring. B. melitensis occurs throughout Latin America, southern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

Producers and veterinarians are advised to investigate abortions and stillbirths so that B. melitensis can be excluded as a cause. These exclusions are used to demonstrate Australia’s disease-free status.

People can also be affected by B. melitensis. Most cases result from handling infected animals, but infections can also occur from consuming unpasteurised dairy products in countries where brucellosis occurs.

Brucella suis

B. suis causes variable signs of disease in pigs as the bacteria can localise in many parts of the body, including reproductive organs. The most obvious signs are reproductive failure such as abortions, stillborn and weak piglets. Pigs may also become lame with swollen joints and/or uncoordinated or paralysed hind legs.

B. suis can cause a serious, debilitating and sometimes chronic disease in people that may affect a variety of organs. Infection usually occurs via contact with the tissues or body fluids of an infected pig, for example, blood, urine, uterine discharges and aborted foetuses.

WA has not detected B. suis in the commercial or wild pig populations, but it has been reported in Queensland and New South Wales in feral pig populations.

Brucella canis

B. canis is known to cause disease only in dogs although antibodies to this organism have been found in other carnivores. B. canis causes abortions, stillbirths, and inflammation of the epididymis (the vessel which transports semen from the testes). Although dogs that have been spayed do not have reproductive signs, they occasionally develop other conditions such as eye disease and an infection of the bone and disc space of the spine (discospondylitis).

B. canis is zoonotic but human infections are uncommon. Most of the few documented cases have been mild.

B. canis has been reported in many countries including the Americas, Europe and Asia but it has not been reported in Australia.

Brucella ovis

B. ovis causes reproductive disease in sheep and primarily in rams, resulting in inflammation of the epididymis (the vessel which transports semen from the testes). In pregnant ewes, B. ovis may cause early embryonic death without clinical signs or less commonly may cause later term abortion.

The disease occurs in most sheep-producing areas of the world, including Australia.The disease may cause economic loss in flocks by reducing lambing percentages, extending lambing seasons and increasing ram culling. Further information on management of ovine brucellosis can be found on the Ovine brucellosis page.

Contact information

Livestock Biosecurity