Brucellosis (Brucella Ovis)

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Selected content from the Animal Health and Production Compendium (© CAB International 2013). Distributed under license by African Union – Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources.

Whilst this information is provided by experts, we advise that users seek veterinary advice where appropriate and check OIE manuals for recent changes to regulations, diagnostic tests, vaccines and treatments.

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Identity    Pathogen/s    Overview    Distribution    Distribution Map for Africa    Distribution Table for Africa    Hosts/Species Affected    Host Animals    Systems Affected    Epidemiology    Impact: Economic    Diagnosis    Disease Course    Disease Treatment Table    Disease Treatment    Vaccines    Prevention and Control    References    Links to Websites



Preferred Scientific Name
brucellosis (Brucella ovis)
International Common Names
Brucella ovis ram epididymitis, brucellosis in sheep, epididymitis of rams, epididymitis, orchitis, in sheep, goats, and pigs, orchitis, orchitis, epididymitis in bulls, ovine contagious epididymitis, ovine epididymitis, seminal vesiculitis, adenitis, in large animals




Brucella ovis




Ovine contagious epididymitis is a chronic disease that affects the reproductive tract of rams, causing reduced fertility (Burgess, 1982). The causative agent was isolated in the early fifties in New Zealand and Australia (McFarlane et al., 1952; Simmons and Hall, 1953), and the organism was named Brucella ovis in 1956 (Buddel, 1956). The micro-organism causes a transmissible disease unique to sheep in which the major symptom is epididymitis in rams and occasionally abortion in ewes. The disease in rams causes economic loss to the sheep industry of many countries mainly due to low fertility rates. Humans are not affected by B. ovis.

This disease is on List B of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE). List B contains transmissible diseases that are considered to be of socio-economic and/or public health importance within countries and that are significant in the international trade of animals and animal products. The distribution section contains data from OIE's WAHID database on disease occurrence. Please see the AHPC library for further information on this disease from OIE, including the International Animal Health Code and the Manual of Standards for Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines. Also see the website:




Brucella ovis infection is usually found in countries with intensive sheep farming. Outbreaks of the disease have been reported in New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Argentina, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, France, Spain, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Brazil and South Africa (Blasco, 1990). Presence of the disease has also been reported in Poland, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Austria, Ivory Coast, Niger, Turkey, Italy, Falkland Islands and other countries (see distribution map).

For current information on disease incidence, see OIE's WAHID Interface.



Distribution Map for Africa

Distribution Map for AfricaDistribution Map for Africa

present, no further details = Present, no further details    widespread = Widespread    localised = Localised
confined and subject to quarantine = Confined and subject to quarantine    occasional or few reports = Occasional or few reports
evidence of pathogen = Evidence of pathogen    last reported = Last reported...    presence unconfirmed = Presence unconfirmed



 Distribution Table for Africa

The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further information for individual references may be available in the Animal Health and Production Compendium. A table for worldwide distribution can also be found in the Animal Health and Production Compendium.

CountryDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferencesNotes
AlgeriaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
AngolaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
BeninDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
BotswanaDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
Burkina FasoNo information available    OIE, 2009 
ChadNo information available    OIE, 2009 
CongoNo information available    OIE, 2009 
Côte d'IvoireReported present or known to be present    Chartier, 1992 
DjiboutiDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
EgyptNo information available    OIE, 2009 
EritreaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
EthiopiaDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
GabonNo information available    OIE, 2009 
GambiaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
GhanaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
GuineaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
Guinea-BissauNo information available    OIE, 2009 
KenyaDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
LesothoPresent    OIE, 2009 
MadagascarDisease never reported    OIE, 2009 
MalawiNo information available    OIE, 2009 
MaliNo information available    OIE, 2009 
MauritiusDisease never reported    OIE, 2009 
MoroccoNo information available    OIE, 2009 
MozambiqueDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
NamibiaPresent    OIE, 2009 
NigerPresent    Bloch & Diallo, 1991 
NigeriaNo information availableNULL   OIE, 2009; Adesiyun et al., 1985 
RwandaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
SenegalNo information available    OIE, 2009 
South AfricaPresentNULL   OIE, 2009; Jansen, 1980 
SudanRestricted distribution    OIE, 2009 
SwazilandDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
TanzaniaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
TogoNo information available    OIE, 2009 
TunisiaDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
UgandaDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 
ZambiaNo information available    OIE, 2009 
ZimbabweDisease not reported    OIE, 2009 



 Hosts/Species Affected

Natural infections in species other than sheep have not been reported, although goats are susceptible to experimental inoculation with Brucella ovis (Blasco, 1990). Whether goats can be a vector is unclear. However, ewes may become the reservoir of B. ovis since they are involved in transmitting B. ovis (FAO/WHO, 1986).



Host Animals

Animal name Context 
Bos indicus (zebu)  
Bos taurus (cattle)  
Capra hircus (goats) Experimental settings 
Ovis aries (sheep) Domesticated host 
Sus scrofa (pigs)  



Systems Affected

Reproductive - Small Ruminants




Brucella ovis is the least pathogenic of all the Brucella species that infect domestic animals. It exclusively infects sheep and affects mainly rams, although male goats experimentally inoculated with B. ovis develop lesions similar to those observed in rams (Blasco, 1990). Whereas in practice the source of infection is contaminated semen excreted by infected rams, not every infected ram excretes B ovis in the semen (Burgess, 1982). Passive venereal transmission is the main route of spread for B. ovis infection (Buddel, 1955; Hartley et al., 1955). However, passive venereal transmission requires both an infected and non-infected ram to mate with the same ewe in one oestrus cycle. Rams may become infected at the post-abortion oestrus, as B. ovis could be found for 10 days in the vaginal discharge following abortion (Hughes, 1972). Although venereal transmission is the most important route of exposure (Jubb et al., 1985), demonstration of infection in 4-month-old rams (Burgess et al., 1982) casts doubt whether age susceptibility to B. ovis infection exists (Blasco, 1990). It has been suggested that sodomy is responsible for the spread of infection amongst young rams (Burgess, 1982). Transmission, however, may also occur when healthy rams are housed in pens where previously infected rams were kept (Clapp et al., 1962). Furthermore, since rams often sniff the genital organs of other rams infection via the nasopharynx is also possible (FAO/WHO, 1986). Under experimental conditions sheep can be infected with B. ovis via several routes (Muhammed et al., 1975; Simmons and Hall, 1953; Blasco, 1990).

Susceptibility to B. ovis may vary between breeds of rams (Cameron et al., 1971; Blasco, 1990). Rams are more susceptible to infection than ewes. Ewes also rarely become actively infected or transmit the disease during abortion to another ewe although they usually develop complement fixation titres. Since only a few infected ewes abort or have dead or weak lams it would appear that ewes are relatively resistant to infection (Buddel, 1955; Hartley et al., 1955; Clapp et al., 1962; Haughey et al., 1967). It is generally accepted that the role of an infected ewe in congenital transmission of the disease is negligible (Blasco, 1990).



Impact: Economic

Outbreaks of Brucella ovis infections may cause significant economic loss in countries where the sheep industry plays a role in the national economy. The main economic problems arise from reduced numbers of lambs born, a high percentage (20%) of barren ewes, and a high percentage of lambs born alive that die within six weeks of birth. Furthermore, prolonging of the lambing season due to disease interference with the normal breeding scheme is of significant economic importance. Lamb yield may drop in infected flocks from 100% to 25% (FAO/WHO, 1986).




The diagnosis of Brucella ovis infection in rams is complicated by the fact that infected rams retain a degree of sexual activity and fertility although the total concentration and number of normal living spermatozoa are significantly reduced (Cameron and Lauerman, 1976; Blasco, 1990). Palpation of the testicles may give a presumptive diagnosis but epididymitis is not unique to infection with B. ovis. Examination of smears of semen with the specific immunofluorescent staining technique can successfully identify infected rams (Ajai et al., 1980).

Isolation of the agent from a diseased animal unequivocally establishes the infection but because excretion of the organism may be intermittent, infected rams may test culture negative (Hughes and Claxton, 1968). Nevertheless, the most common sites from which B. ovis can be isolated at necropsy are the epididymis and accessory sexual glands (Worthington et al., 1985). Recovery of B. ovis from dead lambs is most frequent from the lungs, abomasum contents, and the spleen (Burgess, 1982). Culturing of B. ovis from the semen of suspected rams is not only cumbersome but also very expensive.

As with B. abortus and B. melitensis serological tests are essential for the diagnosis of B. ovis. While the serum agglutination test, Coombs test, Rivanol test, Rose Bengal plate test, complement fixation test (CFT) and the gel diffusion test can be used to detect infected rams (Corbel et al., 1979), the CFT, (double) gel diffusion, and the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) are the commonly used tests.

Although the CFT has been widely used for the detection of B. ovis infections (Blasco, 1990) the sensitivity and specificity of the test depend largely on the time of incubation, temperature at which the reaction takes place and the antigen used (Searson, 1982). Because a suspension of whole cells of B. ovis gives an anticomplementary activity (Clapp, 1961), which hinders reading CFT results, the antigen used is usually a hot saline extract of B. ovis. However, cross-reactions may occur in sera from sheep infected with B. melitensis or vaccinated with Rev 1 (Blasco, 1990) causing interference with diagnostic tests. Furthermore, a percentage of rams shedding Brucellae elude detection with the CFT (Worthington et al., 1985). In practice the CFT is labourious and requires highly trained personnel as well as suitable laboratory facilities. The gel diffusion test using the hot saline extract antigen is easy to perform and is as sensitive as the CFT. Although its simplicity allows it to be used in laboratories where only limited facilities are available, it is a relatively slow test. The counter-immunoelectrophoresis makes the test faster (Blasco, 1990) and it increases the sensitivity of the gel diffusion test (Myers and Varela-Diaz, 1979).

Several authors have used the ELISA for the diagnosis of B. ovis infection but there are contradictory reports as to the sensitivity and specificity of the assay. It seems that the antigen used plays an important role. When a hot saline extract is used the assay is more sensitive than the CFT or the gel-diffusion (Vigliocco et al., 1997). However, some sera that react positively with the gel-diffusion test may react negatively with the ELISA. Therefore, a combined use of the gel-diffusion and the ELISA will result in an optimal sensitivity (Blasco, 1990). Other authors find the ELISA no more sensitive or specific than the classical tests (Ficapal et al., 1995; Aleixo and Neto, 1998), although repeated testing with the ELISA helps to eradicate B. ovis infection in breeding ram flocks (Dénes et al., 1993).

Detection of infected rams with the aid of the delayed-type hypersensitivity test has been evaluated by several authors (Burgess, 1982). They concluded that the test is useful on a flock level. Yet other authors point out that the test cannot distinguish between rams infected with B. ovis or B. melitensis, and rams vaccinated with Rev 1 (Fensterbank et al., 1985).



Disease Course

Blasco, (1990) extensively reviewed the pathogenesis, pathology and histology of Brucella ovis infection. Briefly: as with other Brucella infections there is a period of generalized infection (Enright, 1990). After infection, the bacteria remain in the lymph nodes close to the entry site for 2-3 weeks. This is followed by a bacteraemic stage that may last up to 2 months. The organism infects the reticuloendothelial system and various organs (Biberstein et al., 1964). Although the bacteria can be isolated from several tissues they usually localize in the epididymis causing an epididymitis. However, not all infected rams develop a palpable epididymitis. Lower fertility and seminal degeneration almost always precede the appearance of lesions. In most cases there is a unilateral epididymitis affecting the tail of the epididymis. Sometimes the body and the head of the epididymis are also affected (Blasco, 1990). Following localization in the epididymis there is perivascular oedema and the infiltration of lymphocytes and monocytes into the peritubular tissue. Eventually the epithelial cells are destroyed, either by bacterial products or by extravasation of spermatozoa. This leads to formation of spermatic granulomas that block the epididymis (Jubb et al., 1985).

Testicular atrophy is characteristic for chronic infection. This affects semen quality, breeding efficiency and capacity. The affected testicle appears firm but on the cut surface granulomas and calcification may be apparent (Blasco, 1990). During the bacteraemic stage B. ovis can cause chronic interstitial nephritis resulting in permanent shedding of B. ovis in the urine (FAO/WHO, 1986).

Only ewes exposed to infection at early or mid-pregnancy develop infection that may lead to abortion. In pregnant sheep, B. ovis may cause placental necrosis and abortion 23-80 days post infection (Enright, 1990). For abortion to occur there has to be a sufficient accumulation of bacteria and exudate to cause necrosis of the placenta and separation from the caruncles. Thus, the primary effect of infection in ewes is a placentitis that interferes with normal foetal nutrition resulting in the death of lambs and abortion, or in birth of lambs with low birth weight (FAO/WHO, 1986). Dead foetuses are usually oedematous. Calcified plaques on the soles of the hooves are characteristic of abortion due to B. ovis infection (Enright 1990).



Disease Treatment Table

DrugDosage, administration and withdrawal timesLife stagesAdverse affectsDrug resistanceType
Brucella melitensis Rev 1 Follow manufacturers instructions. Breeding male Interferes with serological diagnosis. No Vaccine 



Disease Treatment

Treatment of Brucella ovis ram epididymitis with antibiotics is very expensive and not very effective. The effect of the treatment is of a short duration, with not all the shedders being cured and the fertility of some animals remaining impaired (Dargatz et al., 1990; Hajtós et al., 1994). Thus, antibiotic therapy is not endorsed except when rams with high breeding quality are infected (Blasco, 1990).




VaccineDosage, Administration and Withdrawal TimesLife StagesAdverse Affects
Brucella melitensis Rev 1 Follow manufacturers instructions. -Sheep & Goats: Breeding male Interferes with serological diagnosis. 



Prevention and Control

It seems that disease prevention can be achieved by eradicating B. ovis from all the rams in a flock. However, since seronegative and clinically normal rams may be latent excretors of B. ovis, detection of all infected rams may not be simple. Therefore, it is suggested to use physical examination, CFT and the ELISA (West and Bruce, 1991), or the gel diffusion test. The gel diffusion test would be using a sonicated B. ovis antigen and the ELISA using a heat extracted antigen (Blasco, 1990). According to Hilbink et al., (1993) the gel diffusion and ELISA correctly identify all infected animals. Culling the positively reacting animals will eliminate the infection from a flock (Walker et al., 1985). In areas with a high incidence of infection vaccination may be the only possibility to reduce the incidence of the infection. The best available vaccine against B. ovis infection in rams is the live Brucella melitensis strain Rev 1 (Plommet, 1991). A dose of 109 CFU given subcutaneously induces good protection in 3-5- and 13-month-old rams. However, because Rev 1 vaccination elicits an immune response that may interfere with the serological diagnosis, the use of conjunctival vaccination is suggested (Blasco, 1990; Plommet, 1991).




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Date of report: 30/05/2013

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