Infectious Diseases

Updated 13 July 2015

Rare fever: Western Cape keeping a close watch

A suspected outbreak of a bacterial infection, usually spread by drinking unpasteurised milk, is being closely monitored after one person fell ill.

A farm outside Beaufort West in the Karoo that sells livestock to local suppliers was forced to cull over 100 goats after a reported case of Brucellosis, which is usually transmitted to humans when drinking unpasteurised milk.

This came after a farmer’s wife fell ill earlier this year, having contracted the disease through an infected goat.

120 goats culled

"Vets have tested 935 animals on this farm and as a result, 120 goats have been slaughtered," said Western Cape MEC for Economic Opportunities and Agriculture Alan Winde.

He said the disease was picked up after state veterinarians conducted a routine inspection at the farm in January when they found animals in a poor condition.

"Testing was immediately undertaken and some of the samples came back positive for Brucella."

Winde pointed out that since the farm had been under quarantine from March, chances of the disease spreading is not expected. "We do not envisage any impact on residents.”

He said neighbouring farms have been tested and are in the clear. “We are therefore confident that it is contained.”

The types of Brucella

John Frean, an expert in parasitology at the National Centre for Communicable Diseases, explained to Health24 that there are two types of Brucellosis; namely Brucella abortus and Brucella melitensis.

"The common one in South Africa is Brucella abortus which mainly affects cattle."  

The main problem it causes in cattle is aborted foetuses and males can also harbour the bacteria in their reproductive tracts.

Frean said that anyone handling the remains of the aborted foetus can get infected.

"Brucella melitensis is particularly associated with sheep and goats and it is somewhat of a more severe disease in humans."

He added that it was not very common, partly because the disease had been controlled for a long time.

Warning over unpasteurised milk products

However, Frean still cautioned against consuming unpasteurised milk products.

"People must be quite careful about unpasteurised milk products and that would extend to cheese as well."

Frean said Brucellosis symptoms to look for out included fever, malaise, fatigue, night sweats, weight-loss, muscle or back pain and headaches.

"Sometimes the infection can cause localised infection in joints, the bones or even on the heart valves, but those are the more unusual complications."

He said the condition was treated with a combination of antibiotics for a minimum of about 6 weeks and it didn't have a very high mortality rate.

No vaccination for humans

"There is no vaccination against Brucellosis in humans," said Health24's resident doctor, Heidi van Deventer.

Although the disease is not usually spread among people, she noted that it could be transmitted sexually.

She also warned that the disease could be recurrent.

"Therefore it is important to consider this in a patient that has fever and flu symptoms, but who does not respond to treatment."

Van Deventer added that one of the characteristics of Brucellosis may also include depression that may become quite severe.

"Some people with the disease can become suicidal due to the depression."

Results are expected soon

Winde said the type of Brucella detected in the Karoo still needed to be established, adding that the results were expected shortly.

"As soon as the tests come back determining which strain of Brucella it is, the vets will make an appropriate instruction to the farmer."

This could see the farm’s entire herd being slaughtered if it is found to be Brucella melitensis.

"We will continue to monitor this case closely, following up regularly on the test results," Winde said.

Also read:

If you had flu, it most likely was swine flu

Rare deadly disease scare grips Durban

What you should know about food poisoning

Image: Brucellosis from Shutterstock.


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