Brucella abortus is a particular species of the gram-negative bacterium Brucella that causes a disease called brucellosis in cattle. Brucellosis (which is also known as Malta fever) more generally can infect a variety of animals and these can act as vectors of transmission and can include other farmed animals besides cattle such as sheep and pigs, as well as various wild species such as elk and bison, for example.
An important fact about the Brucella bug is that it is a zoonotic disease, which means that it can be spread from animals to humans, and vice versa. This means that those who work on farms are faced with a particular risk of contracting the disease. Because Brucella abortus stays infectious in humans it is possible that any farm worker who catches it from an animal may then go on to infect other animals.
The Brucella abortus bacterium is a parasite that causes a blood borne infection in cattle. The great significance of the parasite is that it can cause developmental abnormalities and possibly the abortion of the cattle fetus. It has become a really major problem for the cattle industry and, because of this and also the risk to human health that it poses, this has led to the US government spending as much as 3.5 billion dollars attempting to vaccinate US cattle comprehensively.
In human beings the disease can come in acute and chronic forms. Acute symptoms can include fever and chills as well as an aching head and back. In its chronic form joint pain and fatigue can also result from the disease. The treatment for the disease in humans involves the joint use of two antibiotics called rifampin and doxycycline.
Research into the brucella bug has a rather murky history with it being studied in the US biological weapons program until it was officially shut down in 1969. The military were particularly keen on the fact that it was zoonotic and that it could cause a long illness in people that could potentially be a drain on the resources of the enemy country by damaging productivity.
Ironically, present day research is aimed at countering any threat of bioterrorism that may possibly be carried out by using this bug by producing an effective screening mechanism for it. Another possible danger is that new strains of the bug, which may be passed on from wild animals such as elk and bison, will not be covered by the present vaccination and that this will to a costly new program.