11 days ago

The hidden danger of Brucellosis

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Brucellosis is a bacterial infection. As the name suggests, the culprit is a bacteria by the same name. There are three species, all of which are endemic in many countries and known to cause human infections.  

It is mainly the cattle, goats, dogs and sheep who are infected with the bacteria. From the infected animal, the virus can be transmitted to humans. This is why it is known as a zoonotic disease. 

Unfortunately, it is not really given due attention in Bangladesh, even though studies suggest our livestock often suffer from Brucellosis. This has huge economic implications. The infection can lead to abortion, unexpected mortality, stillbirths etc. The production of milk is also reduced. Therefore, it is not good news for cattle farmers. Worse, Brucellosis is usually not part of the regular vaccination of livestock.

For humans, some issues with reproduction and even infertility may happen. Usually, the route through which the bacteria reach humans is unpasteurised dairy products. If we drink such milk from the infected animal, then we will get infected too. 

Another way of infection is through a cut in our skin. This is a risk, especially for those who work with the livestock almost on a daily basis. 

The risk of transmission from the infected to another person is low, though not unheard of. The bacteria, in rare cases, can also be transmitted from the infected mother to the baby through breast milk.

Bacteria can also enter wounds in the skin/mucous membranes through contact with infected animals; this is especially a risk for those working in the livestock sector. The person-to-person spread of Brucellosis is extremely rare. Infected mothers who are breastfeeding may transmit the infection to their infants. 

Brucellosis can infect anyone regardless of age and sec. Most often, the source of infection is raw milk or other dairy products, usually from sheep or goats, e.g. cheese. 

In our country, the infection is usually seen among teenagers aged 11-15. This is because, on the farms, they are often tasked with caring for the cattle and milking the cow or goat. They sometimes even drink raw milk from the cattle. 

If the virus gets into our body, it usually waits for some time before producing symptoms, known as the incubation period. The incubation could be anywhere between 1 to 2 months. The typical symptoms are fever, weakness, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, headache and sweating. Sometimes, there may be other symptoms. These are generally mild and may go away without treatment. 

For more serious cases, the physician may suspect Brucellosis from history. This can be confirmed by testing blood, bone marrow or other body fluids. If confirmed, the treatment is antibiotics to clear up the infection. Most patients recover quickly, with death happening in only about 2 per cent of cases.

Prevention is the best thing against Brucellosis. Vaccination is advised for all farm animals; infected livestock should be culled. Milk should always be pasteurised before human consumption and preparing any dairy products. People should be made aware of the hazards of drinking raw milk. 

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