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General Information

DEFINITION--A rare bacterial infection transmitted to humans from infected cows, pigs, sheep or goats. It is not contagious from person to person. The disease has an acute form (symptoms appear suddenly) and a chronic form (symptoms appear gradually).

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Blood-producing organs, including bone marrow, lymph glands, liver and spleen.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes and all ages, but most common in men between ages 20 and 60.


    Acute form:

  • Chills, intermittent fever, sweating.
  • Marked fatigue.
  • Tenderness along the spine.
  • Headache.
  • Enlarged lymph glands. Chronic form:
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Backache.
  • Constipation.
  • Weight loss.
  • Depression.
  • Sexual impotence.
  • Abscesses in the ovaries, kidney and brain (rare).

CAUSES--Infection from the bacteria, Brucella, which is transmitted to humans through unpasteurized milk or milk products (butter, cheese) or meat products.


  • Pernicious anemia or previous stomach surgery. These conditions result in reduced stomach acid; stomach acid decreases the chance of infection.
  • Persons with occupations involving animals, such as farmers, butchers, veterinarians or ranchers.
  • Travel to some foreign countries.


  • Don't drink unpasteurized milk from any source.
  • Use gloves and aprons when working around animals.
  • Immunization of livestock.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory blood studies.


  • Doctor's treatment.
  • Hospitalization.
  • Self-care after treatment of the acute phase.


  • Heart, bone, brain or liver infection (rare).
  • Chronic illness and disability from inadequate treatment and care.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Usually curable in 3 to 4 weeks with treatment.

How To Treat


  • It usually is not necessary to isolate the ill person.
  • All family members who may have been exposed to the same infected milk products should have medical checkups and diagnostic tests.

MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Antibiotics to fight infection, such as tetracycline, for a minimum of 3 weeks.
  • Cortisone drugs to reduce the inflammatory response in severe cases.
  • Pain relievers for muscle pain.

ACTIVITY--Rest in bed until fever and other symptoms subside. Resume your normal activities gradually.

DIET--No special diet. Increase calories if weight loss has been significant.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You have symptoms of undulant fever.
  • Fever or other symptoms recur after treatment.
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