MAF investigating suspected case of Brucella suis

15 March 2002

An Auckland man was hospitalised earlier this year with suspected Brucella suis

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and health authorities are working closely to establish the origins of the infection and any potential risk it may pose to public health.

Information from public health authorities to date indicates the person may have become infected during the backyard slaughter and dressing of two pigs for home consumption.

Brucella suis is a bacterial animal disease primarily affecting pigs that may be transmitted to humans. Previous human cases in New Zealand are suspected to have been infected with the bacteria while overseas.

Brucella suis has never before been detected in the New Zealand pig population. However further investigation is underway and MAF expects to have completed all initial tracing and testing by the end of next week.

Derek Belton, MAF's Director of Animal Biosecurity says MAF is currently working to locate the farm, from which the two suspect pigs came.

"Not only is this important from an animal disease control perspective, but it is also important for us to assist the health authorities to identify any at risk people who may have come in contact with infected animals."

"Our first priority is to establish whether infected animals are actually present in New Zealand and then investigate the potential spread of the disease and the necessary control measures on infected farms."

"The bacterium isolated from the patient has been sent overseas for identification by a World Reference Laboratory. Initial tests undertaken by the National Centre for Disease Investigation indicate they are most likely to be Brucella suis," he says

John Lee, Acting Director of MAF Food's Animal Products Group says obviously there are food safety issues involved in the non-commercial backyard slaughter of animals and this case clearly attests to how ill-advised and risky such a practice is.

"There is not yet a confirmed case of Brucella suis in a live animal. But, once there is direct evidence of infection in New Zealand pig herds, MAF would be required to take the precautionary measure of placing a suspension on the certification of all exports of pig meat and pig products from New Zealand."

"Negotiations would have to be undertaken with individual markets to ascertain what requirements New Zealand would have to meet in order to re-establish trade," he says.

Auckland Medical Officer of Health Dr Greg Simmons says precautions to prevent infection during slaughter and dressing of animal meat are standard in abattoirs and the commercial sector, but extra care is needed for backyard processing. Cuts, abrasions and sores should be covered with watertight dressings and splash exposure to animal body fluids should be minimised.

Animal disease enquiries should be directed to: 0800 809 966

Human health enquiries should be directed to: 09 262 1855


For further information please contact Philippa White, MAF Communications Adviser on 04 498 9948 or 025 223 1875

Background Information on Brucella suis

Brucella suis is a species of the bacterial genus Brucella which also includes, Brucella melitensis, abortus and canis

In humans, Brucella suis can be the cause of chronic and painful illness, with arthritic complications if the organism lodges in the bones and joints. Infection in humans is treatable with antibiotics, but even so can take up to a year to fully resolve. It cannot be readily transferred from human to human.

Brucella suis causes reproductive wastage in pigs, mainly through abortions and stillbirths. Infection is introduced to a herd by an infected carrier pig. Pig to pig transmission occurs by eating contaminated materials, such as the products of abortion, or by venereal transmission. Control is normally effected by test and slaughter programmes.

In countries that have porcine brucellosis, the commercial sector manage the situation through biosecurity measures to reduce contact between feral pigs and commercial pig farms, and on-going surveillance or accreditation programmes for commercial farms.



Last Updated: 06 October 2010

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