Brucella ovis infection

Brucella ovis infection

Brucella ovis infection


Current authors:
J M BLASCO - Emeritus Researcher, DVM, PhD, Cita/Ia2/University Zaragoza Avenue, Montañana 930, Zaragoza, 50011, Spain
J X L GODFROID - Professor of Microbiology, DVM, MSc, PhD, University of Tromsø - the Arctic University of Norway, Hansine Hansens veg 18, Tromsø, 9019, Norway
B GARIN-BASTUJI - Senior Research Director/Scientific Adviser, European & International Affairs Department, French Agency for Food, Environmental & Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES), 14 rue Pierre et Marie Curie, Maisons-Alfort Cedex, France
R DE LIMA SANTOS - Professor, DVM, PhD, Escola de Veterinária, Departamento de Clínica e Cirurgia Veterinárias, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Av. Antonio Carlos 6627, Minas Gerais, 31270-901, Brazil


Brucella ovis infects primarily sheep and is one of the most common causes of epididymitis in rams and a rare cause of abortion in ewes and neonatal mortality in lambs. Low reproductive rates may occur in affected flocks.4 Similar clinical manifestations have been occasionally reported in male red deer (Cervus elaphus) in New Zealand.89 It is a non-zoonotic disease.

Brucella-like organisms, which were first isolated from the lesions of rams with epididymitis and from ewes in Australia and New Zealand in 1953,18, 98 were assigned to a new species, Brucella ovis.17 In South Africa, rams with clinical or subclinical epididymitis and low fertility as a result of B. ovis infection were diagnosed for the first time in 1956.104 Since then the disease has also been diagnosed in Namibia and Zimbabwe.105

With few exceptions B. ovis infections occur practically in all sheep-raising countries. In Australia it has been reported that up to 80 per cent of young rams in certain studs or flocks are infected.63, 86 In Europe, B. ovis infections have been described mainly in Southern European countries and more recently also in Eastern Europe.83, 84 The infection is rare in Northern America, whereas B. ovis infection is one of the major causes of low fertility or infertility in rams in Argentina3 and Brazil.36 The infection is widespread in South Africa.34, 104, 105, 106 Results of a survey in 1984 revealed that 4,3 per cent of rams in the Free State Province of South Africa were infected.34


Brucella ovis is similar to the other Brucella spp. in its morphology, staining properties and cultural characteristics,17, 62, 77 but it can be differentiated on the basis of its colonial morphology, as it is always isolated in the rough phase, negative reactions in the oxidase and urease tests, lack of agglutination with specific A and M antisera, and susceptibility to the R/C phage.2, 29

Culture of the organism requires an atmosphere containing five to 10 per cent carbon dioxide,18, 62, 98  and enrichment of the culture media with five to 10 per cent blood or serum.18, 62, 65, 98  Optimum growth occurs at 37°C while no growth occurs at temperatures below 20°C or above 40°C.18  On primary culture after three to four days of incubation on media such as blood agar, the colonies are greyish-white, up to 0,5 to 2,5 mm in diameter, non-haemolytic, circular, convex, rough phase, glistening, translucent and entire-edged.17, 18, 62, 98


Sheep are naturally infected by B. ovis. Besides experimental infection,23, 43 there is serological evidence of natural exposure in billy goats.30   Red deer (Cervus elaphus) are also susceptible and transmission occurs through direct contact with infected rams.90  White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)7 are susceptible to experimental infection.
The disease is spread primarily by infected rams. Brucella ovis may be excreted in the semen of infected rams even before the development of lesions.22, 49, 64  Clinically or subclinically infected rams may excrete B. ovis in their semen for years.17, 49

Infection may spread from ram to ram as a result of homosexual activity or venereally during coitus when uninfected rams mate with ewes that passively harbour the bacteria.6, 14, 23, 25, 49, 63, 79, 95, 99, 100, 110, 111  Ewes generally only transfer organisms mechanically from infected to uninfected rams when they are mated in succession by different rams during the same heat period. Vasectomized and cryptorchid rams are equally vulnerable as a result of direct transmission through contact, homosexual activity and venereal spread through ewes.

Direct ram-to-ram and venereal transmission result in a higher prevalence of infection in flock rams than in stud rams.6, 37, 38, 63, 82, 110, 114 This is probably due to the differences in mating and management practices between these two categories of rams, such as the regular examination of breeding rams and new introductions, individual versus mass mating, and the more isolated rearing and housing of stud rams. High prevalences and even epidemics have been reported in non-breeding rams housed together. Most ram-to-ram infections occur via the oral route. Housed rams establish hierarchies (head-to-head combats), and it is frequent that ‘dominated’ rams, after being ‘mated’ by the dominant rams, lick the prepuce of these dominant rams as an act of submission. If these dominant rams are infected, the probability of harbouring B. ovis in...

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