Florida Hunter Contracts Rare Brain Infection from Feral Hogs

by Emily Morgan

After hunting feral pigs, a Florida man contracted a rare brain disease, according to doctors. Caused by Brucella bacteria, the bacteria was mostly eradicated from the U.S— leaving doctor’s perplexed by the recent case.

According to the report, the man had contracted a fever, headache, and other symptoms affecting various parts of his body. After 11 months of experiencing symptoms, doctors at the Jacksonville Mayo Clinic concluded the man contracted neurobrucellosis after disclosing his love for hunting feral pigs. Doctors treated him with an extensive course of antibiotics orally and through an IV.

Even though he received treatment, the disease left him with lingering neurological conditions. According to study author Julio Mendez, he has recovered.

Wild animals and livestock carried the Brucellao or brucellosis, which was once a common disease. A familiar term for the illness was “goat fever,” which signified a common symptom and animal source. Other common signs of the infection include sweating, fatigue, and weight loss. The bacteria can invade the nervous system, causing inflammation in the brain and neurological symptoms like headaches and seizures.

Since medical advances of the early 20th century, efforts to stamp out brucellosis have been mostly successful. Now, countries like the U.S. routinely test for Brucella in cows. There’s also an available vaccine for livestock. Pasteurization, which eliminates bacteria in dairy products, has also lowered the risk of infection.

Today, doctors who report brucellosis cases in the U.S. usually tie it back to people who’ve consumed raw, unpasteurized products. In a case study published in BMJ, it suggests that hunting may be another source of infection.

These bacteria remain a public health crisis in developing nations since it’s challenging to vaccinate livestock and control outbreaks. But the uniqueness of the disease in the U.S. also means that doctors could miss diagnosing it, especially since its symptoms tend to be mysterious and resemble other conditions.

Mendez hopes other doctors will look for these infections in people at high risk of exposure, including feral pig hunters. Hunters should be aware of Brucella in the wild, both during hunting (the bacteria can enter the skin through open wounds or be inhaled when in close contact with an infected animal) and afterward.

“Hunters need to protect themselves when hunting animals and avoid eating or drinking raw or uncooked meats or unpasteurized milk,” Mendez wrote in an email.