Recently, doctors from Beer Sheva, Israel, reported 5 cases of severe brucellosis. (Brucellosis is a relatively rare bacterial infection that we acquire from animals or by consuming animal products, such as meats or unpasteurized cheese.)

The Israeli patients who had developed fever, respiratory symptoms, abnormal chest exams, and findings on chest x-rays evidence of new pulmonary findings, so an infection acquired by the inhalation route suspected. The true nature of the infection only became evident when Brucella melitensis was identified from cultures of their blood.

The 5 patients were Ethiopian-born Jews with some unique activities that put them at risk for this particular zoonosis. Directed questioning revealed that all patients participated in ceremonial slaughter of sheep. The sheep had been purchased from Bedouin owners, not know to use vaccination for brucella or other modern husbandry techniques.

So, be sure to wear a mask the next time you slaughter sheep!

How else can you avoid brucellosis? Here’s how: mainly be careful when handling sheep, goats, cattle, pigs and hogs. Good hand hygiene is a must, but a simple mask and gloves would be a good idea, too. The last case of brucellosis I treated was acquired picking up a goat out of a pick-up truck. (Cats, dogs and wild animals can also sometimes harbor Brucella sp., but this is less common.) You usually get brucellosis by direct contact with an infected animal or their urine, inhalation of aerosols from the animal parts or secretions may also occur, as above.

You can also get brucellosis from eating or drinking unpasteurized milk products. As there is no known health benefit to raw or unpasteurized milk or cheese, “a word to the wise is sufficient.”

Winkler G. Weinberg, MD

For more (and more useful) tips about avoiding infectious diseases, please see my book, No Germs Allowed!

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