Q Fever

Q fever is a bacterial infection acquired from sheep, cows, or goats. It is typically harmless, but it might cause significant health problems for some people.

Last Updated: September 26, 2023

The primary cause of Q fever is the bacteria Coxiella burnetii. Some animals, like goats, sheep, and cattle, acquire this bacteria independently. C. burnetii can be found in the placenta, amniotic fluid, urine, poop, and milk of animals that have been infected. People can get sick when contracting the bacteria from eating or consuming feces, urine, milk, or birth products from the infected animals mentioned above.

Older persons, particularly men, have a higher incidence of Q fever.  This is mainly because men are more likely to work in jobs where they are more likely to get Q fever, like ranching or managing livestock. People near ranches and livestock operations are also at risk for Q fever.

Most people get sick about two to three weeks after exposure to the bacteria. Some of the signs and symptoms of Q fever are:

  • Fever
  • Chills or sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pains
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Chest pain
  • Stomachache
  • Weight loss
  • Nonproductive cough

To determine whether or not a patient has Q fever, a doctor will order a laboratory request for antibodies against C. burnetii (testing for antibodies). Cultivating C. burnetii from the blood sample may also be done.

Additional samples taken over time may be required from a patient to arrive at a conclusive diagnosis. 

Treatment

Antibiotics are used to treat acute Q fever. Most of the time, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are used to treat chronic Q fever. If patients have a history of problems with their heart valves or blood vessels and have been diagnosed with Q fever, they must disclose this to their doctor to get early treatment to lower the risk of chronic Q fever.

A doctor might prescribe any of the antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs: 

  • Doxycycline
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX) (TMP-SMX)
  • Rifampin
  • Fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin) (ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin)
  • Clarithromycin

Staying away from animals, particularly pregnant animals, and newborns can help prevent contracting Q fever as animals can have Coxiella burnetii and still look well.

Avoid drinking raw milk or eating anything made from raw milk.

Talk to a doctor if you have a history of heart valve disease, blood vessel abnormalities, a weaker immune system, or are pregnant after a diagnosis of Q fever to learn more about your risk for developing chronic Q fever.

 

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). Q Fever. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/qfever/index.html

Cleveland Clinic 2022). Q Fever. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17883-q-fever

Last Updated: September 26, 2023