Brucellosis occurs world wide and is an occupational hazard in Australia.

What Is Brucellosis

Brucellosis is an infectious disease found in animals which can infect a person therefore employees who work with carttle and pigs such as farm workers, animal transport workers, veterinarians and abattoir workers.. It is caused by bacteria called brucella, found mainly in cattle and pigs. Therefore, it is an occupational hazard faced by individuals employed in meat industries. There are a number of diseases found in animals that can be transmitted to humans.

These diseases are called zoonoses. Zoonoses are caused by disease causing bacteria and viruses as well as by worms and parasites. Any person involved in handling animals or animal products is potentially at risk of infection.

Brucellosis is also known as Ungulant Fever and may be difficult to diagnose in exposed workers and may not always be reported. Any one who has a history of contact with domestic cattle may have risked exposure the Brucellosis. Workers most at risk are those in animal production and marketing, abattoir workers, meat workers and handlers.

How Is Brucellosis Transmitted?

In Australia, the disease is transmitted to people from infected cattle or pigs by contact with infected tissues, blood , urine, vaginal discharges, aborted animals foetuses and especially the placenta it is also transmitted by ingestion of raw milk and dairy products from infected animals.

Transmission occurs usually by direct skin contact with these animal tissues or by inhalation of infective droplets and dust.

The brucella bacteria can penetrate intact skin.

What Are The Symptoms?

Symptoms of brucellosis can be similar to the common cold.

It is characterised by fluctuating fever, headache, sweating, weakness, muscular pains and depression. These signs occur two to four weeks after infection has occurred. These acute symptoms usually lessen within a few weeks but the patient may suffer relapses and can be chronically ill for several years.


If a doctor gives the appropriate antibiotic treatment, recovery from brucellosis is usually prompt; however, relapses may still occur.

What You Can Do

A number of workers who maybe infected with brucellosis may be misdiagnosed due to the common nature of the symptoms.

People exposed to the threat of Brucellosis, such as abattoir workers, are therefore advised to see a doctor regarding any illness, no matter how mild.

It is further recommended that the worker’s occupation is specifically included in their medical record so that zoonoses are considered in any diagnosis.

People exposed to a threat of brucellosis at work should have access to specialised medical services that can ensure that a correct and early diagnosis can be made.

Preventing Infection

Preventive measures that are well understood by workers should be implemented in workplaces to eliminate brucella infection.

Some of the control measures recommended by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (see Diseases Acquired From Animals, Australian Government Publishing Service 1989) to prevent and manage brucellosis include:

  • All workers handling potentially infected animals should be thoroughly informed regarding the danger of contracting brucellosis.
  • Individuals with uncovered wounds should not be permitted to work in a meat handling area.
  • Trucks taking cattle and pigs to abattoirs should be regularly disinfected.
  • Specific work practices should be followed in slaughtering animals that have reacted to diagnostic tests for brucellosis. (For information regarding safe work practices, consult the occupational health and safety officer at work or your union office.)
  • Protective clothing and equipment, such as facemasks, goggles, gloves and waterproof boots should be available and used where necessary.
  • All utensils, instruments, machinery, chutes, floors and other areas of potential contamination should be cleaned as frequently as possible with approved agents.

See Also Fact Sheets On:
Personal Protective Equipment
Rural Safety

This Fact Sheet is courtesy of The Workers Health Centre

Sign up for updates