Rare Diseases: Q Fever

livestock can spread airborne bacteria

Though Q Fever is a rare disease it is one that people in the agricultural industry should familiarize themselves with. People living in urban areas will probably never come across a case of Q feature, but that is not guaranteed in the agriculture industry. Q fever is an airborne and highly contagious disease that is transmitted through the handling of livestock mainly cattle, goats, and sheep. The disease is a bacterium, which settles in barnyard dust. People contract the disease by inhaling it when they enter a dusty barnyard. The Q fever bacterium settles in the dust.

The origin of Q fever can be traced back to Queensland, Australia where it was known as Query fever in the 1930’s. Though Q fever was first reported in Australia it is suspected to be a disease known all over the world, only researchers feel the disease was never reported in other parts of the world.

Q fever has both an acute and a chronic stage to it.

Acute symptoms of Q fever are mainly flu-like symptoms and this could easily be mistaken for the flu. In the acute form, the symptoms will surface approximately three weeks after the initial contact with the bacterium

These symptoms will actually last for months if they are left untreated. Antibiotics can shorten the time frame for this disease.

The chronic symptoms are more severe and they last even longer.

The symptoms to watch out for include:

Fever, which is rather high – 104 or 105 degrees is not unusual.

Headaches, which can be characterized as severe

Sore throat, low energy and fatigue, chills and sweats, a dry cough, even nausea or diarrhea.

Other symptoms include: muscle pain, stomach and abdominal pain, chest pain, and clay colored stools.

Some symptoms to be alert for and differentiate from normal flu symptoms include, jaundice, (yellowish tone to the skin and eyes) and weight loss.

The symptoms of chronic Q fever will include: Prolonged or extended fever, night sweats and chills, fatigue and shortness of breathe.

There are some people who are lucky enough not to ever get the disease. However, if people in the agricultural field, do get the disease and it remains untreated and undetected there are some serious consequences. Here are some of the things, which could happen if nothing is done about curing the disease.

Some people will develop a rash, which is purple in color; others will develop pneumonia, or hepatitis, pericarditis (their heart will become inflamed), myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the muscle wall of the heart or meningitis, which is an inflammation of the brain and spinal chord.

It is encephalitis, the inflammation of the brain (excluding spinal chord), which is the most common cause for fatality. It happens mostly to people already suffering with heart or disease, and with people who suffer from a compromised immune system.

Q fever Suspected Causes

Coxiella burnetti is the culprit; this bacterium attacks body organs, especially the heart, brain, liver, lungs and kidneys. Infected animals will carry the disease on their fur or coats and they will also pass it through their stools and urine. Since it is an airborne disease it is quite easy for livestock handlers to inhale this bacteria and since the disease is contagious it can be passed from one person to another. Even though it is even more rare in city dwellers, there have been cases of city dweller who got the disease from their own domesticated pets; rabbits, dogs, birds and cats. The ticks from the animals can jump onto humans.

People, who drink unpasteurized milk, can be at risk for Q fever.

As a safety precaution, if you are around any barnyard animals for any reason and suddenly you come down with the flu, see a doctor since it might just be Q fever.

Doctors run blood tests and ask about your exposure to barnyard animals as well the routine medical history analysis to determine if you have been exposed to the disease. It is therefore important to reveal immediately if you have been around barnyard animals in order to avoid the wrong diagnosis.

Mild cases of Q fever will respond well enough to antibiotics, however Q fever is known to recur and it might take as much as three years to completely rid yourself of the disease.

NOTE: Pregnant women who have been exposed to the disease may spontaneously abort, deliver a baby prematurely, or have a baby with a low birth weight.


If you are working with livestock, continually wash your hands especially with disinfectants that will ward off the coxiella burnetti bacterium.

Be careful handling waste matter and animal placenta.

Do not drink unpasteurized milk

If you live in Australia, get the vaccination.

Unfortunately the vaccine for coxiella burnetti is not yet available in the United States




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carol roach
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Posted on Sep 28, 2009
Sam Montana
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Posted on Sep 28, 2009