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Malta fever, Mediterranean fever, Undulant fever, Bang's disease


  • The Brucella genus is classified among the proteobacteria, into the class of alphaprotein bacteria and the order of rhizobials.
  • Notifiable Disease: Yes, in the animal kingdom.


BrucellosisThe causal agent in Malta fever was first demonstrated in humans in 1887 by an English military doctor based in Malta, Captain David Bruce. The bacterium was subsequently detected in many species of mammal. The genus is itself divided into 9 species of Brucella; classification is based upon different host-specificity.


Brucellosis is an endemic zoonosis in many countries: it affects bovine, caprine, ovine and porcine species. It is characterised by chronic infection in the animal, resulting in spontaneous abortions and reproductive problems. In humans, it triggers a fever-like syndrome that can lead to serious complications (endocarditis, encephalitis, arthritis).


Human infection takes place principally after ingesting contaminated dairy products, or during contact with runts or animals that had recently given birth. The disease is also found in wild land animals (wild boar, reindeer, hares) and marine (seals, cetaceans). Contact with wild fauna can also be a source of infection of man.


Belgium is free of bovine, ovine and porcine brucellosis. However, the infection is present in its endemic state in wild boar. In this case, however, the zoonotic risk is low, since the strain found in wild boar is not virulent in humans. In Belgium, a few cases are reported in humans each year; in most cases they are people who have recently returned from abroad.


CODA-CERVA is the reference-point laboratory for both human and animal aspects of brucellosis.h25 a2 12


Our laboratory is able to perform the isolation, culture and biochemical and molecular typing of Brucella. We are also well versed in the various benchmark serological tests. The laboratory took part successfully in international ring-tests, and received ISO 17025 certification in bacteriology and serology.


Our laboratory is involved in the aspect of false-positive serological reactions and in developing molecular typing methods.


We have mastered all the techniques of diagnosing brucellosis: this expertise is put to good use in maintaining Belgium's status as free of the disease. It is also used in collaboration with developing countries, and to study brucellosis in wild fauna (marine and terrestrial mammals).


David Fretin


- Bankole AA, Saegerman C, Berkvens D, Fretin D, Geerts S, Ieven G, Walravens K. Phenotypic and genotypic characterisation of Brucella strains isolated from cattle in the Gambia. Vet Rec. 2010 Jun 12;166(24):753-6.

- Jauniaux TP, Brenez C, Fretin D, Godfroid J, Haelters J, Jacques T, Kerckhof F, Mast J, Sarlet M, Coignoul FL. Brucella ceti infection in harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Emerg Infect Dis. 2010 Dec;16(12):1966-8.


- Marcotty T., Matthys F. Godfroid J., Rigouts L., Ameni G., Gey van Pittius, Kazwala R., Muna J., van Helden P., Walravens K., de Klerk L.M., Geoghegan C., Mbotha D., Otte M., Amenu K., Abu Samra N., BothaC., Ekron M., Jenkins A., Jori F., Kriek N., McCrindle C., Michel A., Morar D., Roger F., Thys E., van den Bossche P. Zoonotic tuberculosis and brucellosis in Africa: neglected zoonoses or minor public health issues ? The outcomes of a multi-disciplinary workshop. Ann Trop med parasitol, 2009, 103(5), 401-11


- Fretin D, Whatmore A, Al Dahouk S, Neubauer H, Garin-Bastuji B, Albert D, Van Hessche M, Walravens K, Wattiau P., Rapid differentiation of Brucella suis biovars by real-time PCR.Vet Microbiol. 2008 Oct 15;131(3-4):376-85.

- Godfroid J, Cloekaert A, Liautard J-P, Kohler S, Fretin D, Walravens K, Garin-Bastuji B, Letesson J.-J. From the discovery of the Malta fever 's agent to the discovery of a marine mammal reservoir, brucellosis has continuously been a re-emerging zoonoses. Vet Res. 2005 May-Jun;36(3):313-26.

- Tryland M, Sørensen KK, Godfroid Prevalence of Brucella pinnipediae in healthy hooded seals (Cystophora cristata) from the North Atlantic Ocean and ringed seals (Phoca hispida) from Svalbard. J.Vet Microbiol. 2005 Jan 31;105(2):103-11.


- Saegerman C, De Waele L, Gilson D, Godfroid J, Thiange P, Michel P, Limbourg B, Vo TK, Limet J, Letesson JJ, Berkvens D. Evaluation of three serum i-ELISAs using monoclonal antibodies and protein G as peroxidase conjugate for the diagnosis of bovine brucellosis. Vet Microbiol. 2004 May 20;100(1-2):91-105.

- Brucellosis in the European Union and Norway at the turn of the twenty-first century. Godfroid J, Käsbohrer A.. Vet Microbiol. 2002 Dec 20;90(1-4):135-45.

- Foster G, MacMillan AP, Godfroid J, Howie F, Ross HM, Cloeckaert A, Reid RJ, Brew S, Patterson IA. A review of Brucella sp infection of sea mammals with particular emphasis on isolates from Scotland. Vet Microbiol. 2002 Dec 20;90(1-4):563-80.

- Godfroid J, Saegerman C, Wellemans V, Walravens K, Letesson JJ, Tibor A, Mc Millan A, Spencer S, Sanna M, Bakker D, Pouillot R, Garin-Bastuji B. How to substantiate eradication of bovine brucellosis when aspecific serological reactions occur in the course of brucellosis testing. Vet Microbiol. 2002 Dec 20;90(1-4):461-77.


- Cloeckaert A, Verger JM, Grayon M, Paquet JY, Garin-Bastuji B, Foster G, Godfroid J. Classification of Brucella spp. isolated from marine mammals by DNA polymorphism at the omp2 locus. Microbes Infect. 2001 Jul;3(9):729-38.


- Saegerman C, Vo TK, De Waele L, Gilson D, Bastin A, Dubray G, Flanagan P, Limet JN, Letesson JJ, Godfroid J. Diagnosis of bovine brucellosis by skin test: conditions for the test and evaluation of its performance.Vet Rec. 1999 Aug 21;145(8):214-8.
- Tryland M, Kleivane L, Alfredsson A, Kjeld M, Arnason A, Stuen S, Godfroid J. Evidence of Brucella infection in marine mammals in the North Atlantic Ocean. Vet Rec. 1999 May 22;144(21):588-92


- Clavareau C, Wellemans V, Walravens K, Tryland M, Verger JM, Grayon M,Cloeckaert A, Letesson JJ, Godfroid J Phenotypic and molecular characterization of a Brucella strain isolated from a minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). Microbiology. 1998 Dec;144 ( Pt 12):3267-73.


- Weynants V, Tibor A, Denoel PA, Saegerman C, Godfroid J, Thiange P, Letesson, Infection of cattle with Yersinia enterocolitica O:9 a cause of the false positive serological reactions in bovine brucellosis diagnostic tests, JJ.Vet Microbiol. 1996 Jan;48(1-2):101-12