Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


brucellosis (Brucella ovis)



brucellosis (Brucella ovis)


  • Last modified
  • 28 June 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Animal Disease
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • brucellosis (Brucella ovis)
  • Overview
  • Ovine contagious epididymitis is a chronic disease that affects the reproductive tract of rams, causing reduced fertility (Burgess...

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • brucellosis (Brucella ovis)

International Common Names

  • English: Brucella ovis ram epididymitis; brucellosis in sheep; epididymitis of rams; epididymitis, orchitis, in sheep, goats, and pigs; orchitis; ovine contagious epididymitis; ovine epididymitis; ovine epididymitis (Brucella ovis); seminal vesiculitis, adenitis, in large animals


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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 (Buddle, 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.

Ovine epididymitis (Brucella ovis) is on the list of diseases notifiable to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). For further information on this disease from OIE, see the website:

Hosts/Species Affected

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Natural infection is almost exclusively associated with sheep. Cattle, goats and deer are susceptible to B. ovis in artificial transmission experiments but, of these, natural cases have been reported only in deer (Rider, 2001).


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Brucella ovis infection is usually found in countries with an intensive sheep farming sector. Disease has been reported in Latin American, North American, South American and European countries as well as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but may occur in most sheep-raising countries, with the apparent exception of the United Kingdom.

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

Distribution Table

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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 details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


AfghanistanNo information availableOIE, 2009
ArmeniaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
AzerbaijanDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
BahrainDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
BangladeshNo information availableOIE, 2009
BhutanNo information availableOIE, 2009
CambodiaNo information availableOIE, 2009
ChinaNo information availableNULLFeng et al., 1997; OIE, 2009
-Hong KongNo information availableOIE, 2009
-XinjiangPresentLiu et al., 1983
IndiaAbsent, reported but not confirmedNULLKatoch et al., 1996; OIE, 2009
IndonesiaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
IranDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
IraqDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
IsraelDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
JapanDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
JordanDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
KazakhstanDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
Korea, Republic ofNo information availableOIE, 2009
KuwaitDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
KyrgyzstanRestricted distributionOIE, 2009
LaosDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
LebanonDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
MalaysiaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
MongoliaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
MyanmarDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
NepalNo information availableOIE, 2009
OmanDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
PakistanNo information availableNULLAfzal et al., 1987; OIE, 2009
PhilippinesDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
QatarNo information availableOIE, 2009
Saudi ArabiaPresentOIE, 2009
SingaporeDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
Sri LankaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
SyriaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
TajikistanNo information availableOIE, 2009
ThailandNo information availableOIE, 2009
TurkeyNo information availableNULLTürütoglu, 1992; OIE, 2009
United Arab EmiratesDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
VietnamDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
YemenNo information availableOIE, 2009


AlgeriaNo information availableOIE, 2009
AngolaNo information availableOIE, 2009
BeninDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
BotswanaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
Burkina FasoNo information availableOIE, 2009
ChadNo information availableOIE, 2009
CongoNo information availableOIE, 2009
Côte d'IvoireReported present or known to be presentChartier, 1992
DjiboutiDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
EgyptNo information availableOIE, 2009
EritreaNo information availableOIE, 2009
EthiopiaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
GabonNo information availableOIE, 2009
GambiaNo information availableOIE, 2009
GhanaNo information availableOIE, 2009
GuineaNo information availableOIE, 2009
Guinea-BissauNo information availableOIE, 2009
KenyaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
LesothoPresentOIE, 2009
MadagascarDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
MalawiNo information availableOIE, 2009
MaliNo information availableOIE, 2009
MauritiusDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
MoroccoNo information availableOIE, 2009
MozambiqueDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
NamibiaPresentOIE, 2009
NigerPresentBloch and Diallo, 1991
NigeriaNo information availableNULLAdesiyun et al., 1985; OIE, 2009
RwandaNo information availableOIE, 2009
SenegalNo information availableOIE, 2009
South AfricaPresentNULLJansen, 1980; OIE, 2009
SudanRestricted distributionOIE, 2009
SwazilandDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
TanzaniaNo information availableOIE, 2009
TogoNo information availableOIE, 2009
TunisiaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
UgandaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
ZambiaNo information availableOIE, 2009
ZimbabweDisease not reportedOIE, 2009

North America

CanadaAbsent, reported but not confirmedOIE, 2009
-AlbertaPresentNiilo et al., 1986
-OntarioPresentBuckrell et al., 1985
GreenlandDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
MexicoDisease not reportedNULLPerez and Flores-Castro, 1979; OIE, 2009
USARestricted distributionOIE, 2009
-IdahoPresentDeLong et al., 1979
-IowaPresentYoungs and Weber, 1992
-KansasPresentBeeman et al., 1982
-OregonPresentBulgin, 1990
-UtahPresentBagley et al., 1985
-WyomingPresentCorbel et al., 1983

Central America and Caribbean

BelizeDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
Costa RicaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
CubaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
Dominican RepublicDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
El SalvadorNo information availableOIE, 2009
GuadeloupeNo information availableOIE, 2009
GuatemalaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
HaitiNo information availableOIE, 2009
HondurasNo information availableOIE, 2009
JamaicaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
MartiniqueNo information availableOIE, 2009
NicaraguaNo information availableOIE, 2009
PanamaNo information availableOIE, 2009

South America

ArgentinaRestricted distributionNULLRobles et al., 1993; OIE, 2009
BoliviaNo information availableOIE, 2009
BrazilDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
-Rio Grande do SulPresentMagalhaes and Gil-Turnes, 1996
-Sao PauloPresentMarinho and Mathias, 1996
ChileRestricted distributionNULLTamayo et al., 1989; OIE, 2009
ColombiaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
EcuadorDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
Falkland IslandsLast reported1991Reichel et al., 1994
French GuianaNo information availableOIE, 2009
PeruDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
UruguayPresentNULLParavis et al., 1995; OIE, 2009
VenezuelaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009


AlbaniaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
AustriaDisease not reported200804Khaschabi et al., 1993; OIE, 2009
BelarusDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
BelgiumDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
BulgariaPresentNULLMilanov et al., 1986; OIE, 2009
CroatiaPresentOIE, 2009
CyprusDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
Czech RepublicDisease not reported2004Seidl and Bischofová, 1990; OIE, 2009
DenmarkDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
EstoniaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
FinlandDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
FranceRestricted distributionNULLFensterbank, 1987; OIE, 2009
GermanyDisease not reported1986Pozvari, 1980; OIE, 2009
GreeceDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
HungaryPresentNULLHegedüs et al., 1992; OIE, 2009
IcelandDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
IrelandDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
ItalyNo information availableNULLFarina et al., 1995; OIE, 2009
LatviaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
LiechtensteinDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
LithuaniaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
LuxembourgDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
MacedoniaNo information availableOIE, 2009
MaltaDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
MontenegroDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
NetherlandsDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
NorwayDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
PolandDisease not reported2004Boryczko and Królak, 1987; OIE, 2009
PortugalDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
RomaniaPresentOIE, 2009
Russian FederationPresentOIE, 2009
-Russia (Europe)PresentSyusyukin et al., 1986
SerbiaNo information availableOIE, 2009
SlovakiaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
SloveniaPresentNULLBrglez et al., 1993; OIE, 2009
SpainRestricted distributionNULLBlasco et al., 1982; OIE, 2009
SwedenDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
SwitzerlandDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
UKDisease never reportedOIE, 2009
UkraineDisease not reported199412Dénes et al., 1993; OIE, 2009


AustraliaPresentNULLGee, 1987; OIE, 2009
French PolynesiaDisease not reportedOIE, 2009
New CaledoniaPresentOIE, 2009
New ZealandPresentNULLWest and Bruce, 1991; OIE, 2009


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Lesions in male animals are largely in the epididymis, tunica vaginalis and testis varying from a slight enlargement of the epididymis, either unilateral or bilateral, to large indurations. Spermatoceles containing partially inspissated spermatic fluid may be found in the epididymis and fibrous atrophy can occur in the testis. The tunica vaginalis is often thickened and fibrous, and can have extensive adhesions. There are generally no clinical signs in the ewe although occasionally infection causes abortion or the birth of weak or stillborn lambs, associated with a placentitis.


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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. Semen or vaginal smears can be examined following staining by Stamp’s method and characteristic coccobacilli should be demonstrated in many infected animals. Examination of stained smears of suspect tissues (ram genital tract, inguinal lymph nodes, placentas, and abomasal content and lung of fetuses) may also allow a rapid presumptive diagnosis. However, other bacteria with similar morphology or staining characteristics can also be present in such samples and microscopy results should always be confirmed by culture of the microorganism.

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).

As with B. abortus and B. melitensis, serological tests are essential for the diagnosis of B. ovis. The most efficient and commonly used tests are the complement fixation test (CFT), the double agar gel immunodiffusion (AGID) test and the indirect enzyme-Iinked immunosorbent assay (I-ELISA). While the only test prescribed by the OIE and the European Union (EU) for international trade is the CFT, the AGID test is simpler to perform and has been shown to have similar sensitivity to CFT. Disadvantages of the CFT include technical complexity, anti-complementary activity of some sera, the difficulty of performing it with haemolysed sera, and the prozone phenomena. In contrast the simplicity and easy interpretation of AGID make it useful for routine use in nonspecialised laboratories. Studies have shown that I-ELISA may be more sensitive and specific than either of these tests (Marin et al., 1989, Ris et al., 1984, Spencer & Burgess, 1984; Worthington et al., 1984; Worthington et al., 1985) but further standardisation and validation is required.

Differential molecular assays such as the Bruceladder multiplex PCR or SNP typing (Gopaul et al., 2008; Lopez-Goni et al., 2008) and specific PCR tests (Xavier et al., 2010) are now available that can readily identify B. ovis following growth of suspect colonies. There are however still limited reports of the application of PCR directly to field material (Xavier et al., 2010; Costa et al., 2016). Multiplex PCRs that discriminate from other common bacterial causes of ovine epididymitis have also been reported (Saunders et al., 2007; Moustacas et al., 2013). Although the limited data available to date suggests that B. ovis is a genetically conserved species, tools such as multilocus sequence typing and multilocus variable number of tandem repeat typing (Whatmore et al., 2006; Whatmore et al., 2007; Whatmore et al., 2016) may prove increasingly useful to understand both global and local epidemiology and to track the transmission and spread of strains (Dorneles et al., 2014). B. ovis whole genome sequences are now available (Tsolis, 2009) and it is likely that whole genome sequencing will be an increasingly important epidemiological tool in the future.

List of Symptoms/Signs

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SignLife StagesType
General Signs / Swelling mass penis, prepuce, testes, scrotum Sheep & Goats:Breeding male Sign
Reproductive Signs / Abnormal size testes / scrotum Sheep & Goats:Breeding male Sign
Reproductive Signs / Abortion or weak newborns, stillbirth Sheep & Goats:Mature female Sign

Disease Course

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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).


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Brucella ovis is the least pathogenic of all the Brucella species that infect domestic animals. It almost 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 (Buddle, 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 lambs it would appear that ewes are relatively resistant to infection (Buddle, 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

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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).

Zoonoses and Food Safety

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There are no confirmed reports of human infections with B. ovis and, unlike many Brucella, this species is not considered zoonotic.

Disease Treatment

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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).

Prevention and Control

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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. Vaccination of both rams and ewes is probably the most economical and practical means for medium-term control of B. ovis in areas with a high incidence of infection. The best available vaccine against B. ovis infection in rams is the live Brucella melitensis strain Rev 1 (Plommet, 1991; Ridler and West, 2011). 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). The B. abortus RB51 live vaccine has not proven successful against B. ovis in sheep (Jiménez de Bagüés et al., 1995) and no alternative vaccines are currently available.


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CFSPH: Animal Disease Information"Animal Disease Information" provides links to various information sources, including fact sheets and images, on over 150 animal diseases of international significance.
OIE Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals (Terrestrial Manual) aims to facilitate international trade in animals and animal products and to contribute to the improvement of animal health services world-wide. The principal target readership is laboratories carrying out veterinary diagnostic tests and surveillance, plus vaccine manufacturers and regulatory authorities in Member Countries. The objective is to provide internationally agreed diagnostic laboratory methods and requirements for the production and control of vaccines and other biological products.

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