Q fever is an uncommon condition caused by the organism Coxiella burnetii (a type of bacteria). The organism is carried by domestic animals such as cattle sheep and goats. It may also infect a number of other animals including some domestic pets.
The organism is distributed globally.
Humans may contract the infection in a variety of ways, these include ingestion of contaminated food or unpasteurised milk. The organism may be shed in large quantities when animals give birth, increasing the risk of human infection. The infection is not however passed from person to person.
The symptoms appear about 2-3 weeks after exposure to the organism, and often resemble a flu-like illness, with headache, fever, joint, and muscle aches, together with a dry cough. A significant proportion of patients will develop pneumonia, and some will develop hepatitis. Death from the disease is rare and most people recover without treatment.
Q fever infection is confirmed by blood tests. Treatment with antibiotics (usually Doxycycline) is sometimes required, if the disease is severe, prolonged or relapsing, in order to prevent chronic infection.
Prevention involves avoidance of unpasteurised milk and, avoidance of close contact with potentially infected animals.
This article published on
01 September 2005
Next review date 01/10/2013