Q fever is a zoonosis caused by a highly infectious microorganism: Coxiella burnetii. That organism is very resistant to heat, pressure and drying. It can persist for months under the form of spores, a long time after the infectious outbreak is over. Q fever has been described for the first time in Australia. It is widespread worldwide.
Goats, cattle and sheep are the primary reservoir of Q fever. C. burnetii can be found in faeces, urine, milk and tissue (mainly placenta). You can also find it in arthropods, rodents, other mammals and birds that can all play a role in human infection. The microorganism is eliminated by urine and faeces of contaminated animals. It can mainly be found in blood and tissues of birth products. During pregnancy, the organism accumulates in the placenta. During birth, considerable quantities of Coxiella organisms are thus widespread in nature.
The disease mainly occurs in veterinarians, meat merchants and farmers. Outbreaks have started in animal farms, in meat packaging industries and in laboratories that use sheep for research.
C. burnetti provokes disease symptoms only in humans. Only 50 % of infected people develop a syndrome. The disease is rarely fatal (less than 1 %).
Most patients totally recover without any treatment after a few months. However antibiotics shorten the disease duration. Doxycycline is the best treatment in case of acute Q fever. Antibiotics therapy is mostly effective when it is started within the first three days of the disease.
If, on a period of one or two weeks, a relatively high number of persons develops a non-specific febrile syndrome which, in one case out of four is associated with pulmonary symptoms, the possibility of intentional propagation of Coxiella burnetii has to be taken into account.
Federal Public Service (FPS) Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment
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Contact Center: +32 (0)2 524.97.97
Published on 29/10/2008 – Page last updated on 29/10/2008