December 8, 2016

Texas Brucellosis Outbreak Linked to Raw Cheese from Mexico

A brucellosis outbreak in Texas has been linked to unpasteurized cheese from Mexico, according to a health advisory issued by the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services. A record number of 13 people have been diagnosed in 2016 so far. Dallas usually has only 2 to 6 cases of brucellosis every year. There were 11 Brucella infections total in 2014.

Soft-Cheeses

The cheeses were brought into the U.S. from Mexico by friends or relatives, consumed while traveling in Mexico, or bought from local street vendors. The patient age range is from 6 to 80 years. Most required hospitalization to start treatment. And two incidents of “high-risk occupational exposures of hospital laboratory personnel have occurred during handling of these clinical Brucella isolates.”

Brucella bacteria typically infect cows, goats, and sheep. Most people get brucellosis infections by eating or drinking unpasteurized dairy products from countries where this disease is endemic, such as Mexico, South America, and Central America. The bacteria is the most common lab-associated infection in this country, since it easily aerosolizes and has a very low infectious dose.

A Brucella infection can happen quickly or take time, since the incubation period varies from weeks to months. Symptoms usually include fever, fatigue, weakness, weight loss, night sweats, arthralgia (joint pain), and headache. Complications from this illness can be serious, including meningitis, endocarditis, and osteomyelitis. Most patients require treatment with a combination of antibiotics for weeks or months to reduce the risk of recurrence.

Because the bacteria aerosolize and spread so easily, the lab must be informed when submitting a brucella specimen so the technicians can take special precautions to prevent exposure. While consuming raw dairy products is the most common way to get this disease, simply inhaling the bacteria can cause illness.

If you have consumed raw Mexican-style cheese and have experienced the symptoms of brucellosis, please see your doctor. This is a reportable illness, so your doctor will inform public health officials.

 

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