Q Fever

Q fever is a rickettsial infection caused by Coxiella burnetii (COX-ee-ELL-uh burn-ETT-eye). Only about half the people infected with this organism get sick with Q fever. Most people who get sick start having symptoms 2 to 3 weeks after getting C. burnetii, although symptoms can start sooner. These symptoms include fever, headache, chest or stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. The fever can last 1 to 2 weeks, but many people can also get more serious lung or liver infections as a result of Q fever.

Most people get better within 1 to 2 months after being infected. Rarely, people can be sick from Q fever a year or more after getting this disease. For these people, inflammation (swelling) of the heart, especially the valves in the heart, can be a serious problem.

Can animals transmit Q fever to me?

Yes, some animals can pass Q fever to people. Cattle, sheep, and goats are most likely to carry C. burnetii, but other kinds of animals can also have this disease. Most infected animals do not show signs of Q fever, but the organism can be in barnyard dust that contains manure, urine or dried fluids from the births of calves or lambs. People usually get Q fever by breathing in this contaminated barnyard dust. Occasionally, people can get Q fever from drinking contaminated milk or from tick bites.

How can I protect myself from Q fever?

  • When possible, avoid contact with the placenta, birth products, fetal membranes, and aborted fetuses of sheep, cattle, and goats.
  • Eat and drink only pasteurized milk and milk products.
  • If you work around pregnant sheep and goats, get vaccinated (where possible) against C. burnetii infection.
  • Quarantine imported animals.
  • If you have pre-existing heart valve disease or have had valve replacements, be extra careful around areas with sheep, cattle, and goats.

You can also refer to CDC's Web site on Q fever for additional information.

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