Animal Health & Disease Management

Brucellosis (new)

Local names: Embua: kuvuna / Luo: tuo bwogo / Kikuyu: muhono, kihuna / Maasai: aibiriu, olik ibiroto / Samburu: ikiboroto /Swahili: homa ya kutupa mamba / Turkana: akiyech / Maragoli: luhusidza / Luvugusu: livure / Nandi: sutonik /

Common names: Contagious abortion, Bang's disease

Description: Zoonotic disease, Reproductive problem, Abortion

Scientific name: Brucella abortus, Brucella melitensis, Brucella canis, Brucella suis

Hosts: Cattle, Buffalo, Pigs,

Geomap Description

Geographical Distribution of Brucellosis in Africa (red marked). Source CDC, updated on 29 March 2019. Brucellosis is prevalent in most countries of the world.



A very common cause of abortion is Brucellosis, which can also infect humans. Brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by the Brucella bacteria. Brucellosis is a bacterial infection affecting primarily cattle, buffalo, pigs, sheep, goats, camels and dogs, and occasionally horses. People can catch the disease from animals. Brucellae may enter the body through mucousmembranes, conjunctivae, wounds, or intact skin in both humans and animals.
There are many other infectious abortions. But most labs in the country/region routinely only diagnose few causes of abortion other than Brucella (e.g. caused by bacteria or parasites such as Campylobacter, Trichomonas). However, close observation and submitting a full history together with the samples will help alert the lab on the possible involvement of other abortion agents (e.g. Rift Valley Fever).
Brucellosis is caused by four strains of the bacterium Brucella, in various livestock.
  • In cattle it is caused almost exclusively by Brucella abortus, although occasionally Brucella melitensis or Brucella suis may be implicated if cattle come in contact with small ruminants and pigs respectively
  • Melitensis occurs primarily in sheep and goats; 
  • suis in pigs
  • Brucella canis is confined to dogs 
The disease in humans, sometimes called Undulant Fever, is a serious public health problem, especially when caused by Brucella Melitensis. Brucellosis in humans resembles malaria, and is often mistaken as such unless identified through laboratory testing. Cure of Brucellosis in humans requires a very long (2-3 months) and expensive treatment with antibiotics.
In animals, abortion is the most obvious manifestation. Animals abort from the 7th month onwards. Cattle of all ages and sex can be infected with B. abortus, but it is primarily a disease of sexually mature female cattle, with bulls and immature animals showing little or no clinical disease. Abortion due to Brucella mostly occurs during the last third of pregnancy. In unprotected herds 40% to 80% of pregnant females may abort or give birth to very weak newborns. After abortion animals give no or only little milk. 
In some countries Brucellosis has been eradicated or brought under control by a program of blood testing, slaughter and heifer vaccination. However in most parts of East Africa there has been no control or vaccination and Brucellosis is common in both humans and animals.
In livestock it is not possible to treat Brucellosis. However, some cattle resist infection and a small percentage of infected cows spontaneously recover. 


Mode of spread

  • Natural transmission occurs by ingesting the bacteria, which are present in large numbers in aborted foetuses, foetal membranes and uterine discharges. Cattle may ingest contaminated feed or water, or lick contaminated genitals of other animals.
  • Venereal transmission by infected bulls to susceptible cows appears to be rare. Brucella may enter the body through mucous membranes, the conjunctiva, wounds or intact skin.
  • The disease is spread when aborting animals discharge B. abortus bacteria in the placenta, foetus and vaginal discharges to the ground, where they can survive for several weeks. Excretion of the bacteria may occur for several days before abortion and for some time after. Cattle become infected when they ingest or inhale contaminated material. Brucellae bacteria have been recovered from fetuses and from manure that has remained in a cool environment for more over 2 months. Exposure to direct sunlight kills the organisms within a few hours.
  • A cow's tail, heavily contaminated with infected uterine discharges, may spread infection if it comes in contact with the conjunctiva or intact skin of other animals. The placenta, placental fluids, and foetus from an aborting animal contain organisms which contaminate the vulva, tail and legs of the animal and the surrounding environment.
  • In in-calf females, the bacteria invade and cause abortion in the 7th month. The incubation period is about 6 weeks. It is only when a placenta exists i.e. in the second half of pregnancy, that the uterus is invaded and abortion occurs.
  • Shedding from the vagina largely disappears with the decrease in fluids following calving. Some cows that previously aborted shed Brucella from the uterus following normal calvings.
  • Transmission may occur by artificial insemination when Brucella-contaminated semen is deposited in the uterus
  • The disease can be transmitted to the unborn calf through the placenta by the infected dam. This disease can have serious negative economic consequences to stockmen in both modern intensive dairy systems and pastoral production enterprises.
  • Organisms are shed in the milk for a variable period of time in most previously infected cattle for life.
  • Housing or confining cattle increases the likelihood of transmission. Under free range conditions the disease is of lower prevalence.


Spread to human

  • Human becomes infected when in direct contact with cows at abortion, calving or in the post calving period. 
  • Vets and stockhandlers are particularly at risk from the splashing of infected droplets into the eye.
  • Infection occurs in people drinking unpasteursied milk or milk products. 
  • Symptoms include recurrent bouts of fever, headache, muscle and joint pains and and general weakness. Brucellosis is often confused with malaria and influenza.


Risks from Raw Milk

In non-pregnant infected animals the Brucella live inside the udder and are excreted with the milk. This presents a very serious health risk to anybody drinking raw milk. Brucellosis is a dangerous zoonosis. To protect yourself and your family always boil milk before consumption.



Signs of Brucellosis

  • Abortion is the most obvious manifestation. Animals abort from the 7th month onwards.
  • Infections may also cause stillbirths or weak calves, retained placentas, and reduced milk yield. Usually general health is not affected in uncomplicated abortions.
  • In less acute infections, cattle may give birth to a full term but weak calf, or merely show a retained placenta. Cows may become infertile due to chronic uterine infection.
  • After abortion, the afterbirth doesn't come out (retained placenta). This can further develop to Metritis (infection of the uterus), which often causes infertility.
  • In bulls, no symptoms may be seen but if they are, they may include inflammation of the testes, lack of sexual activity and possibly infertility.
  • Subcutaneous (under the skin) swellings containing infected fluid may appear on the legs of infected cattle and the placenta often has a thickened leathery appearance with some discolouring.
  • Calves infected before puberty usually lose the infection once removed from the source of contamination.
  • Mature non-pregnant animals, or animals in early pregnancy, when exposed to infection, are more likely to develop immunity than to show symptoms of disease.



Brucellosis can be diagnosed in abortion materials (placenta, foetus, uterine discharge) and in blood. In cattle, Brucellosis can also be diagnosed in the milk, the milk test is called Milk-Ring-Test.

All aborted foetuses should be handled carefully with gloves to avoid human infection. Do not touch with bare hands! 

If you suspect Brucellosis in a lactating cow collect a fresh clean raw milk sample (one cupful is plenty), keep it chilled and take it to the nearest lab for testing.



Diseases with similar symptoms

See under Chapter Abortion and Stillbirth: See Vibriosis, Leptospirosis, Rift Valley Fever


Prevention of Brucellosis

  • Non infected herds must be protected. The greatest danger is from replacement animals. Additions should be vaccinated calves or nonpregnant heifers. If pregnant or fresh cows are added, they should originate from Brucellosis-free areas or herds and be seronegative. Replacements should be isolated for around 30 days and retested before being added to the herd. 
  • A single vaccination of heifers between 5 and 8 months of age with S19 vaccine (also called Buck 19) will normally protect cows for life. S19 vaccine can also be used on adults to vaccinate all animals and to protect the whole herd. Because S19 vaccine can cause abortions, it is safer not to vaccinate pregnant animals.
  • Bulls should not be vaccinated as the vaccine may result in the organism appearing in the semen Adult cattle should be vaccinated annually with dead B. abortus vaccine (45/20), or a with a reduced dose (one twentieth) of S19 vaccine. 
  • S19 vaccine should be handled with care. It is a live vaccine and can infect humans.
  • S19 vaccine can also be used to protect livestock other than cattle, but the best time for vaccination and the duration of immunity are not well known. In some countries there are special Brucellosis vaccines for sheep and goats.
  • Vaccination will reduce the number of infected animals in a herd by by over 90% if carried out over a period of 5 years. Vaccination cannot eradicate Brucellosis but it can lay the groundwork for future eradication.

Control - Treatment


The disease can be controlled by:

  • Managing effective sanitary measures in the cattle environment 
  • Vaccination. Calves under eight months can be vaccinated with live vaccines (S.19) to prevent infection. Such vaccinations can provide lifelong immunity. However, the live vaccine should be used with care in adult animals because it can cause abortion in in-calf females and inflammation of the testes in adult males. Adult cattle should be vaccinated annually with dead B. abortus vaccine (45/20).
  • Because of the danger of human infection, infected fetuses, placenta and cows should be handled with great care. Handlers of such material should always wear gloves for protection. They should also ensure that keep their hands away from the mouth, nose and eyes until after the hands are thoroughly disinfected.


Recommended treatment

Brucella infections are known to be persistent and hence treatment with antibiotic is not recommended. It is therefore not practical and not viable to make any treatment attempt.


Other useful home remedies

  • Isolate all cows that have aborted until all the discharges have stopped
  • Burn or burry all contaminated materials such as fetuses, foetal membranes
  • Clean and disinfect all cattle premises which may be contaminated with fetuses and foetal membranes.
  • With the risk of human infection, proper hygienic precautions should be taken when handling abortions and where infection is known to occur in certain herds of cattle, drinking of raw milk and un pasteurized milk products should be prohibited


Common traditional practices

  • Samburu: Crush a piece of sokotei root (Salvadora persica, toothbrush tree) about two fingers long. Boil in 5 litres of water for 1 hour. Allow the mixture to cool, than sieve and drench the animal has aborted. Use 2 litres for cows, 1 litre for sheep and goats. 

(Source: ITDG and IIRR, 1996)

Information Source Links

  • Barber, J., Wood, D.J. (1976) Livestock management for East Africa: Edwar Arnold (Publishers) Ltd 25 Hill Street London WIX 8LL. ISBN: 071310063X
  • Blood, D.C., Radostits, O.M. and Henderson, J.A. (1983) Veterinary Medicine - A textbook of the Diseases of Cattle, Sheep, Goats and Horses. Sixth Edition - Bailliere Tindall London. ISBN: 0702012866
  • Blowey, R.W. (1986). A Veterinary book for dairy farmers: Farming press limited Wharfedale road, Ipswich, Suffolk IPI 4LG
  • CDC, Brucellosis risk of exposure
  • Force, B. (1999). Where there is no Vet. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands. ISBN 978-0333-58899-4.
  • Hall, H.T.B. (1985). Diseases and parasites of Livestock in the tropics. Second Edition. Longman Group UK. ISBN 0582775140
  • Hunter, A. (1996). Animal health: General principles. Volume 1 (Tropical Agriculturalist) - Macmillan Education Press. ISBN: 0333612027
  • Hunter, A. (1996). Animal health: Specific Diseases. Volume 2 (Tropical Agriculturalist) - Macmillan Education Press. ISBN:0-333-57360-9
  • ITDG and IIRR (1996). Ethnoveterinary medicine in Kenya: A field manual of traditional animal health care practices. Intermediate Technology Development Group and International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, Nairobi, Kenya. ISBN 9966-9606-2-7.
  • Pagot, J. (1992). Animal Production in the Tropics and Subtropics. MacMillan Education Limited London. ISBN 0-333-53818-8
  • The Organic Farmer magazine No. 50 July 2009

1. William Ayako, KARI Naivasha. Aug -Dec 2009
2. Hugh Cran, Practicing Veterinarian Nakuru. March ? Oct 2010 
3. Review workshop team. Nov 2 - 5, 2010 

  • For Infonet: Anne, Dr Hugh Cran 
  • For KARI: William Ayako - Animal scientist, KARI Naivasha 
  • For DVS: Dr Josphat Muema - Dvo Isiolo, Dr Charity Nguyo - Kabete Extension Division, Mr Patrick Muthui - Senior Livestock Health Assistant Isiolo, Ms Emmah Njeri Njoroge - Senior Livestock Health Assistant Machakos 
  • Pastoralists: Dr Ezra Saitoti Kotonto - Private practitioner, Abdi Gollo H.O.D. Segera Ranch
  • Farmers: Benson Chege Kuria and Francis Maina Gilgil and John Mutisya Machakos
  • Language and format: Carol Gachiengo 

4. Updating by Dr Hugh Cran, Practicing Veterinarian, Nakuru, Kenya, Sept 2011

5. Updating May 2013 by: Dr Mario Younan (DVM, PhD), Regional Technical Advisor for VSF-Germany, working in East Africa since 1995

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