Coxiellosis (Q Fever)

Q Fever may cause abortions, stillbirths and/or weak born kids or lambs. (Photo by Laci Jones)

By Barry Whitworth

Since the Center for Disease Control (CDC) classified Coxiella burnetii as a potential bioterrorism agent and made it a reportable disease, it has been discovered that Q fever in humans is more common than previously thought. According to the CDC’s latest statistics, the number of human cases in the United States reported in 2014 was 160.
The largest outbreak ever recorded in the world occurred in the Netherlands during the years 2007 through 2010. In this outbreak, over 4,000 people were diagnosed with Q fever. This outbreak was linked to the dairy goat farms in the area.

Interestingly, according to the Nation Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) 2009 Goat Study, more than 75 percent of goat producers in the United States are not familiar with Coxiellosis. If a producer raises goats or sheep, this disease should be considered if abortion, stillbirths and/or weak born kids or lambs become a problem.

C. burnetii is a small intracellular bacterium that infects many species of animals and humans. The bacterium is very resistant to environmental extremes and survives for long periods of time in the right conditions.

The organism is zoonotic, which means it passes from animals to humans. When humans are infected with the bacterium, half will not have any clinical signs. The other half will develop flu-like symptoms. A very few may develop pneumonia, hepatitis and/or endocarditis. The disease in humans is considered an occupational hazard.

Veterinarians, livestock producers and slaughter house workers are more likely to be infected than the general populations. Goats, sheep and cattle are considered the main source of most human infection.

Animals infected with the bacterium do not usually show any clinical signs of the disease. The major exception to this is occasional abortion outbreaks, especially in goats and to a lesser degree in sheep. Abortions and stillbirths occur in the late stages of pregnancy. Also, producers may see weak born kids and lambs with this disease. After the abortion episodes, the animals become immune to the organism.

Pick up the April issue to learn more!