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SPOTLIGHT ON: The human face of brucellosis

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Brucellosis is a highly contagious zoonotic disease, which requires a One Health approach to address. Approximately 500,000 new human cases are reported annually, and the effects can be devastating. In addition, workers who rely on livestock economically are liable to suffer the effects associated with decreased productivity – the annual impact of brucellosis to smallholder farmers in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa alone is estimated at US $500 million per year.

We spoke to Sascha Al Dahouk, Scientific Director at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin and Professor for Internal Medicine at the RWTH Aachen University, about the ways in which brucellosis infection can impact on the food chain – increasing the risk of disease across borders:

How easy is it for humans to contract the disease?

Unfortunately, it’s very easy to transfer brucellosis from livestock to humans via the food chain. Taking Brucella melitensis in goats as an example, if people consume unpasteurized milk or cheese from goats infected with brucellosis, there is a very high likelihood of contracting the disease.

Is there a difference between countries where the disease is endemic, and those where it is not?

There’s a big difference between endemic countries and non-endemic countries. In countries where brucellosis is endemic, you see this correlation between the disease in livestock and in humans, whereas in non-endemic countries you see only a few cases – most of which are due to foodstuffs imported illegally from other countries, or to people contracting the disease whilst visiting an endemic country.

The problem is that if the disease is not diagnosed early and treated adequately, the sufferer can experience a lot of problems afterwards, affecting almost every organ. These can be fatal: if left untreated, around 10% of people will die.

What are your thoughts on the Brucellosis Vaccine Prize competition?

I welcome this competition, as it will push forward the idea of an ideal animal vaccine for different species, which is safe for people and for livestock. If you stop brucellosis in livestock you definitely stop it in humans: this is the key.


More from the experts…
For an exclusive insight into the issues with current vaccines in the developing world and the need for innovation in the field of brucellosis, read AgResults’ interview with Jacques Godfroid, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Tromsø – the Arctic University of Norway.

World Zoonoses Day: spotlight on the most common zoonotic disease

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