An outbreak of brucellosis due to to consumption of goat cheese has caused concern in the northern Portuguese town of Baiao, according to a Correio da Manhã report today (computer translated).

Herd of goats/Public domain image via Wikimedia commons
Herd of goats/Public domain image via Wikimedia commons

At least 13 people have been affected by the disease, and four of them were hospitalized as of the end of yesterday afternoon in St. Anthony and St. John hospitals in Porto. According to the Northern Regional Health Authority, the patients conditions are not life threatening.

“It is a cheese that many people in the region like. The production is homemade and sold to friends and neighbors,” said Paula Osorio, a resident of Baiao and who also suffered from the disease.

Local authorities in the Porto municipality of Baiao said the source of the brucellosis outbreak was cheese from a home-based factory, adding that the infection had been contained.

Also known as undulant fever and Malta fever, brucellosis is a zoonotic (acquired from animals) infection caused by several species of the bacterium, Brucella.

The countries with the highest incidence of both animal and human brucellosis are those in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Latin America and parts of Mexico.

The Brucella species are named for their primary hosts: Brucella melitensis is found mostly is goats,sheep and camels, B. abortus is a pathogen of cattle, B. suis is found primarily in swine and B. canis is found in dogs.

There are two common ways people get infected with brucellosis. First are individuals that work with infected animals that have not been vaccinated against brucellosis. This would include farmers, slaughterhouse workers and veterinarians.

They get infected through direct contact or aerosols produced by the infected animal tissue. B. abortus and B. suis are most common.

Related: Portugal Health Minister on Legionnaires’ outbreak: ‘The source of the outbreak has been eliminated’

The second way is through ingesting unpasteurized dairy products. This is typically due to B. melitensis from where brucellosis is endemic in ovine and bovine animals.

If someone gets infected with Brucella, the incubation period is about 2-3 weeks, though it could be months. Fever, night sweats, severe headache and body aches and other non-specific symptoms may occur.

Acute and chronic brucellosis can lead to complications in multiple organ systems. The skeletal, central nervous system, respiratory tract, the liver, heart, gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts can all be affected. Untreated brucellosis has a fatality rate of 5%.

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