Definition

What is Q fever?

Q fever is a disease caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii which is found worldwide. The bacteria naturally infects some animals, such as goats, sheep and cattle. C. burnetii bacteria are found in the birth products (i.e. placenta, amniotic fluid), urine, feces, and milk of infected animals. People can get infected by breathing in dust that has been contaminated by infected animal feces, urine, milk, and birth products. Some people never get sick; however those that do usually develop flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, fatigue, and muscle pain.

How common is Q fever?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Q fever?

The common symptoms of Q fever are:

Many people infected with Q fever never show symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you’ll probably notice them between three and 30 days after exposure to the bacteria. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • High fever, up to 41 C
  • Severe headache
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sensitivity to light

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes Q fever?

Q fever is caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii, commonly found in sheep, goats and cattle. The bacterium can also infect pets, including cats, dogs and rabbits.

These animals transmit the bacteria through their urine, feces, milk and birthing products — such as the placenta and amniotic fluid. When these substances dry, the bacteria in them become part of the barnyard dust that floats in the air. The infection is usually transmitted to humans through their lungs, when they inhale contaminated barnyard dust.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Q fever?

There are many risk factors for Q fever, such as:

  • Certain occupations place you at higher risk because you’re exposed to animals and animal products as part of your job. At-risk occupations include veterinary medicine, meat processing, livestock farming and animal research.
  • Simply being near a farm or farming facility may put you at higher risk of Q fever, because the bacteria can travel long distances, accompanying dust particles in the air.
  • Your sex. Men are more likely to develop symptomatic acute Q fever.
  • Time of year. Q fever can occur at any time of the year, but the number of infections usually peaks in April and May in the U.S.

Risk factors for chronic Q fever

The risk of eventually developing the more deadly form of Q fever is increased in people who have:

  • Heart valve disease
  • Blood vessel abnormalities
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Impaired kidney function

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is Q fever diagnosed?

It’s difficult for a doctor to diagnose Q fever based on symptoms alone.

Your doctor may suspect you have Q fever if you work or live in an environment that puts you at high risk for exposure and you have any of the flu-like symptoms or serious complications of Q fever. Your doctor might ask you questions about your job or if you’ve recently been exposed to barnyard or farm animals.

Q fever is diagnosed with a blood antibody test. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an antibody test frequently appears negative in the first seven to 10 days of sickness. Your doctor should use their best judgment to decide whether or not to begin treatment based on suspicion alone.

If your doctor suspects you have a chronic infection, they may order a chest X-ray and other tests to look at your lungs and a test called an echocardiogram to look at your heart valves.

How is Q fever treated?

Q fever is treated with the antibiotic doxycycline. How long you take the medicine depends on whether or not you have acute or chronic Q fever. For acute infections, antibiotic treatment lasts two to three weeks.

People who have chronic Q fever usually must take a combination of antibiotics for at least 18 months. Even after successful chronic Q fever treatment, you’ll need to go back for follow-up tests for years in case the infection returns.

Mild or nonsymptomatic cases of acute Q fever often get better with no treatment. However, if you have symptoms of Q fever or if you’re pregnant, antibiotic treatment is recommended. Your treatment plan may vary if you’re unable to take doxycycline.

If you have Q fever endocarditis, you may need surgery to replace damaged heart valves.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Q fever?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you reduce your risk of Q fever:

  • Properly disinfect and decontaminate exposed areas.
  • Properly dispose of all birth materials after a livestock animal has given birth.
  • Wash your hands properly.
  • Quarantine infected animals.
  • Make sure the milk you drink is pasteurized.
  • Test animals routinely for infection.
  • Restrict the airflow from barnyards and animal holding facilities to other areas.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: December 8, 2017 | Last Modified: December 8, 2017

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