Hunters: Protect Yourself from Brucellosis

Some animals may put hunters at risk for brucellosis, a disease that can cause severe illness. Learn about what you can do to prevent this illness.

Brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria.

People can get the disease when they are in contact with infected animals or animal products contaminated with the bacteria.

If you hunt certain kinds of wild animals (see examples listed below), you may have an increased risk of brucellosis. This is because as a hunter you may come into contact with the blood and organs of the animals you are hunting

Animals That Can Put Hunters at Risk

Many animals can have brucellosis. If you hunt particular animals, such as those listed below, you may face an increased risk of getting the disease. When an animal gets infected with the bacteria that cause brucellosis, it can carry the bacteria for life and can pass the disease on to other animals and humans

  • Wild hogs
    Hunting wild hogs is a popular sport among hunters. Since wild hogs destroy farmland and crops and compete with native wildlife for food, wildlife agencies support their hunting to control the animal population size.
  • Other game animals that can have brucellosis in North America are:
    • Bison
    • Elk
    • Deer
    • Caribou/reindeer
    • Moose

In addition, predators such as bears and wolves may get brucellosis after they feed on infected animals. If you hunt or trap these types of predatory animals, be aware of the risk for brucellosis and protect yourself. Dogs that are used for hunting can also be at risk for brucellosis.

How You Can Get Brucellosis from Animals

You can get sick if blood, fluid, or tissue from an infected animal comes in contact with your eyes, nose, mouth, or skin.
This can happen when you are involved in hunting-related activities such as:

  • Field dressing
  • Butchering
  • Handling or preparing raw meat for cooking
  • Eating meat that is not thoroughly cooked

Protect Yourself from Brucellosis

When you are hunting wild animals (especially wild hogs, elk, moose, or bison), avoid all contact with visibly ill animals or those found dead. Be sure to practice safe field dressing techniques, since it is still possible for animals that appear healthy to have brucellosis.

Safe field dressing can help keep you from getting brucellosis. So, be sure to:

  • Use clean, sharp knives for field dressing and butchering.
  • Wear eye protection and rubber or latex gloves (disposable or reusable) when handling carcasses.
  • Avoid direct (bare skin) contact with fluid or organs from the animal.
  • Avoid direct (bare skin) contact with hunting dogs that may have come into contact with hunted animals.
  • After butchering, burn or bury disposable gloves and parts of the carcass that will not be eaten.
  • Don’t feed dogs with raw meat or other parts of the carcass.
  • Wash hands as soon as possible with soap and warm water for 20 seconds or more. Dry hands with a clean cloth.
  • Clean all tools and reusable gloves with a disinfectant, like dilute bleach. (Follow the safety instructions on the product label).
  • Thoroughly cook meat from any animal that is known to be a possible carrier of brucellosis (see the list above).
  • Be aware that freezing, smoking, drying and pickling do not kill the bacteria that cause brucellosis.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Brucellosis Infection?

When you get infected, you may experience:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Low Appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Joint Pain
  • Muscle Pain

It may take anywhere from a week up to a month after coming into contact with the infected animal for you to start feeling sick.

See a doctor right away if you experience these signs and symptoms. Be sure to tell your doctor about your contact with wild animals, especially wild hogs, moose, elk, and bison. Your doctor can test your blood for brucellosis.

If the test confirms brucellosis, your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics. These are drugs that can stop the infection. You usually need to take them for 6 weeks or longer.

If the illness is not treated or comes back, you could have serious problems in your bones, joints, or heart.

Brucellosis does not kill people often, but it can happen. So, be sure to take all of the antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. This will help prevent the illness from coming back and keep you safe and healthy.


National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology.