(redirected from Maltese fever)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia.
Related to Maltese fever: Mediterranean fever, brucellosis




Brucellosis is a bacterial disease caused by members of the Brucella genus that can infect humans but primarily infects livestock. Symptoms of the disease include intermittent fever, sweating, chills, aches, and mental depression. The disease can become chronic and recur, particularly if untreated.


Also known as undulant fever, Malta fever, Gibraltar fever, Bang's disease, or Mediterranean fever, brucellosis is most likely to occur among those individuals who regularly work with livestock. The disease originated in domestic livestock but was passed on to wild animal species, including the elk and buffalo of the western United States. In humans, brucellosis continues to be spread via unpasteurized milk obtained from infected cows or through contact with the discharges of cattle and goats during miscarriage. In areas of the world where milk is not pasteurized, for example in Latin America and the Mediterranean, the disease is still contracted by ingesting unpasteurized dairy products. However, in the United States, the widespread pasteurization of milk and nearly complete eradication of the infection from cattle has reduced the number of human cases from 6,500 in 1940 to about 70 in 1994.

Causes and symptoms

The disease is caused by several different species of parasitic bacteria of the genus Brucella. B. abortus is found in cattle and can cause cows to abort their fetuses. B. suis is most often found in hogs and is more deadly when contracted by humans than the organism found in cattle. B. melitensis is found in goats and sheep and causes the most severe illness in humans. B. rangiferi infects reindeer and caribou, and B. canis is found in dogs.
A human contracts the disease by coming into contact with an infected animal and either allowing the bacteria to enter a cut, breathing in the bacteria, or by consuming unpasteurized milk or fresh goat cheese obtained from a contaminated animal. In the United States, the disease is primarily confined to slaughterhouse workers.
Scientists do not agree about whether brucellosis can be transmitted from one person to another, although some people have been infected from a tainted blood transfusion or bone marrow transplant. Newborn babies have also contracted the illness from their mothers during birth. Currently, it is believed that brucellosis can also be transmitted sexually.
The disease is not usually fatal, but the intermittent fevers (a source of its nickname, "undulant fever") can be exhausting. Symptoms usually appear between five days and a month after exposure and begin with a single bout of high fever accompanied by shivering, aching, and drenching sweats that last for a few days. Other symptoms may include headache, poor appetite, backache, weakness, and depression. Mental depression can be so severe that the patient may become suicidal.

Key terms

Antibody — A specific protein produced by the immune system in response to a specific foreign protein or particle called an antigen.
Chronic — Disease or condition characterized by slow onset over a long period of time.
Parasite — An organism living in or on, and obtaining nourishment from, another organism.
Pasteurization — The process of applying heat, usually to milk or cheese, for the purpose of killing, or retarding the development of, pathogenic bacteria.
In rare, untreated cases, the disease can become so severe that it leads to fatal complications, such as pneumonia or bacterial meningitis. B. melitensis can cause miscarriages, especially during the first three months of pregnancy. The condition can also occur in a chronic form, in which symptoms recur over a period of months or years.


Brucellosis is usually diagnosed by detecting one or more Brucella species in blood or urine samples. The bacteria may be positively identified using biochemical methods or using a technique whereby, if present in the sample, the brucellosis bacteria are made to fluoresce. Brucellosis may also be diagnosed by culturing and isolating the bacteria from one of the above samples. Blood samples will also indicate elevated antibody levels or increased amounts of a protein produced directly in response to infection with brucellosis bacteria.


Prolonged treatment with antibiotics, including tetracyclines (with streptomycin), co-trimoxazole, and sulfonamides, is effective. Bed rest is also imperative. In the chronic form of brucellosis, the symptoms may recur, requiring a second course of treatment.


Early diagnosis and prompt treatment is essential to prevent chronic infection. Untreated, the disease may linger for years, but it is rarely fatal. Relapses may also occur.


There is no human vaccine for brucellosis, but humans can be protected by controlling the disease in livestock. After checking to make sure an animal is not already infected, and destroying those that are, all livestock should be immunized. Butchers and those who work in slaughterhouses should wear protective glasses and clothing, and protect broken skin from infection.
Some experts suggest that a person with the disease refrain from engaging in unprotected sex until free of the disease. The sexual partners of an infected person should also be closely monitored for signs of infection.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1600 Clifton Rd., NE, Atlanta, GA 30333. (800) 311-3435, (404) 639-3311.


"Bacterial Diseases." Healthtouch Online Page. 〈〉.
Centers for Disease Control. 〈〉.


a generalized infection involving primarily the reticuloendothelial system, marked by remittent fluctuating fever, malaise, and headache. It is caused by various species of Brucella and is transmitted to humans from domestic animals such as pigs, goats, and cattle, especially through infected milk or contact with the carcass of an infected animal.

The disease is also called undulant fever because one of the major symptoms in humans is a fever that fluctuates widely at regular intervals. The symptoms in the beginning stages are difficult to notice and include loss of weight and increased irritability. As the illness advances, headaches, chills, diaphoresis, and muscle aches and pains appear. It is possible for these symptoms to persist for years, either intermittently or continuously, although most patients recover completely within 2 to 6 months. Diagnosis is confirmed by blood cultures or serologic agglutination tests.

Treatment consists of rest and supportive care with a prolonged antibiotic regimen. Prevention is best accomplished by the pasteurization of milk and a program of testing, vaccination, and elimination of infected animals.


Infectious diseases caused by the bacteria Brucella melitensis biovars, characterized by fever, sweating, weakness, orchitis, aches, and pains, and transmitted to humans by direct contact with diseased animals or through ingestion of infected meat, milk, or cheese, and particularly hazardous to veterinarians, farmers, and slaughterhouse workers; although some crossing over by species may occur, Brucella melitensis, Brucella melitensis biovar abortus, Brucella melitensis biovar canis, and Brucella melitensis biovar suis characteristically affect goats, cattle, dogs, and swine, respectively.


/bru·cel·lo·sis/ (-o´sis) a generalized infection involving primarily the reticuloendothelial system, caused by species of Brucella.


1. An infectious disease in humans caused by some species of bacteria of the genus Brucella, that is transmitted by contact with infected animals or raw milk products and marked by fever, malaise, severe headache, and joint pain. Also called Gibraltar fever, Malta fever, Mediterranean fever, undulant fever.
2. An infectious disease chiefly of domestic animals, such as cattle, sheep, goats, and dogs, that is caused by some species of bacteria of the genus Brucella, and sometimes results in spontaneous abortions in newly infected animals. Also called Bang's disease.


Etymology: David Bruce, English pathologist, 1855-1931
a disease caused by any of several species of the gram-negative coccobacillus Brucella: Brucella melitensis, B. abortus, B. suis, and B. canis, the latter of which is very rare and causes only mild illness. Brucellosis is most prevalent in rural areas among farmers, veterinarians, meat packers, slaughterhouse workers, and livestock producers. Laboratory workers are also at risk. It is primarily a disease of animals (including cattle, pigs, sheep, camels, goats, and dogs); humans usually acquire it by ingestion of contaminated milk or milk products or raw meat or marrow, through a break in the skin, through contact with an infected animal, or through inhalation of dust from contaminated soil. It is characterized by fever, chills, sweating, malaise, and weakness. The fever often occurs in waves, rising in the evening and subsiding during the day, at intervals separated by periods of remission. Other signs and symptoms may include anorexia and weight loss, headache, muscle and joint pain, and an enlarged spleen, and orchiepididymitis in young men. In some victims the disease is acute; more often it is chronic, recurring over a period of months or years. Although brucellosis itself is rarely fatal, treatment is important because serious complications such as pneumonia, endocarditis, meningitis, and encephalitis can develop. Tetracycline plus streptomycin is the treatment of choice; bed rest is also important. A vaccine is available outside the United States. This organism is considered a potential agent of bioterrorism due to its low infectious dose (10-100 organisms) and method of infection by way of aerosol, allowing distribution over a large area. Also called Cyprus fever, dust fever, Gibraltar fever, Malta fever, Mediterranean fever, rock fever, undulant fever. See also abortus fever.


A highly contagiously infection by Brucella spp, primarily B abortus (less commonly, B melintensis and B suis), caused by skin contact with infected cattle, goats and sheep or consumption of contaminated milk or meat.
Primarily affects veterinarians, farmers, wool sorters and dairy workers, who are occupationally exposed to infected animals, meats or spore-laden wool.
Clinical findings
Fever, sweating, malaise, aches, meningitis, abscesses of brain, liver, spleen, cholecytitis, endocarditis, arthritis, spondylitis, osteomyelitis, erythema nodosum, inhalation pneumonitis.
Doxycycline, rifampin for 6+ weeks.
Generally less than 5%.


Bang's disease, Malta fever, undulating fever Infectious disease Infection by Brucella spp, primarily B abortus, less commonly, B melintensis and B suis Epidemiology Primarily affects veterinarians, farmers, wool sorters, dairy workers, who are occupationally exposed to infected animals, meats, spore-laden wool Clinical Fever, sweating, malaise, aches, meningitis, abscesses of brain, liver, spleen, cholecystitis, endocarditis, arthritis, spondylitis, osteomyelitis, erythema nodosum, inhalation pneumonitis Lab Agglutination positive Management Doxycycline, rifampin for 6+ wks


An infectious disease caused by Brucella, characterized byfever, sweating, weakness, and aching, and transmitted to humans by direct contact with diseased animals or through ingestion of infected meat or milk.
Synonym(s): undulant fever.


An infectious disease, caused by bacteria of the genus Brucella , and contracted by eating infected meat and dairy products, or by contact with the secretions of sheep, goats or cows. The disease is characterized by lethargy, general MALAISE, aches and pains and fever. The fever lasts for a week or so, settles for a few days, then returns (undulant fever). Sometimes these recurrences persist for months or years, usually becoming progressively milder. (Major-General Sir David Bruce, 1855–1931, British Army pathologist).


a feverish disease caused by the bacterium Brucella that occurs commonly in cattle, sheep and goats. Infection of B. abortus in cattle can cause spontaneous abortion of calves and an attenuated live VACCINE has been developed to decrease the prevalence of the pathogen.


Sir David, English surgeon, 1855-1931.
Brucella abortus - infectious bacteria causing abortions in cattle, sheep, mares; causes undulant fever in man and a wasting disease in chickens. Synonym(s): abortus bacillus; Bang bacillus
Brucella - a genus of encapsulated, nonmotile bacteria (family Brucellaceae) causing infection of the genital organs, the mammary gland, and the respiratory and intestinal tracts.
brucellosis - an infectious disease caused by Brucella, and transmitted by direct contact with diseased animals or through ingestion of infected meat, milk, or cheese. Synonym(s): febris undulans; Malta fever; Mediterranean fever; undulant fever


an island in the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily.
Malta fever - Synonym(s): brucellosis


infection by Brucella spp. It causes different syndromes in each animal species. (1) Bovine brucellosis, caused by B. abortus, is characterized by abortion in late pregnancy and subsequent infertility. (2) Ovine brucellosis, caused by B. ovis, is characterized by epididymitis in rams and resulting infertility. (3) Brucellosis in pigs, caused by B. suis, is a chronic disease manifested by infertility and abortion in sows, orchitis in boars and heavy piglet mortality. (4) Caprine brucellosis, caused by B. melitensis, is manifested principally by abortion although other signs including loss of weight, mastitis, lameness and orchitis are also reported. (5) There is no specific brucella organism in horses but B. abortus occurs not infrequently as a bursitis in fistulous withers and poll evil. (6) In dogs, B. canis causes late abortions in bitches, and infertility and scrotal dermatitis in males.

brucellosis testing
the eradication of bovine and porcine brucellosis has been a target for human public health and veterinary authorities for 50 years and has reached a stage of virtual eradication in most developed countries. During that time the veterinary profession has been involved in testing many millions of individual animals so that a test and slaughter eradication program could be implemented. The standard test has been the tube agglutination test with some assistance from screening tests such as the ABR or milk ring test and the card agglutination test.

Patient discussion about brucellosis

Q. Can Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) cause a heart enlargement? A friend of mine is suffering from FMF. its usually doesn't bother him that much and when it dose the symptoms are stomach ache and fever. he has no heart symptoms and takes no medications. his physician told him that because of the FMF he might suffer from a heart enlargement, and that he should take some oral medications daily to prevent it. how can it be?

A. This question can't be answered with a strict yes or no.
although FMF on its own can't cause heart enlargement, FMF can cause amyloidosis because of the recurrent inflammation. this may lead to enlargement of the heart which is a severe disease.
the good side is that taking medication can decrease the chance of the cardiac enlargement.

More discussions about brucellosis