Q Fever

Agricultural Disaster Preparedness and Recovery November 03, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Q Fever is a highly infectious disease caused by the Coxiella burnetii bacteria. Infected animals and people often recover spontaneously from the disease without having any clinical signs of illness. However, chronic C. burnetii infection can cause severe complications in people, including liver and heart disease.

Q Fever has been identified by the CDC as a potential weapon for bioterrorism.


Endemic Areas

Q Fever is found worldwide.


Clinical Signs

  • Abortion
  • Stillbirths
  • Retained placenta
  • 'Runty' offspring
  • Infertility



Q Fever can be treated with antibiotics, but infected animals often recover spontaneously. Any animal suspected of having Q Fever should be reported to the State Veterinarians or USDA Area Veterinarian in Charge immediately.



Vaccines for Q Fever are not commercially available in the United States.

The spread of Q Fever can be prevented by incinerating the placenta after birth, limiting access to birthing areas and using proper cleaning and disinfection procedures.


Public Health

Q Fever is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to people. People most at risk of contracting the disease are those who work closely with animals, especially during birthing. C. burnetii bacteria can be found in the placenta, milk, semen and feces of infected animals. Inhalation of the bacteria through handling of these materials or contaminated dust is how the disease usually spreads to people, but it also can be transmitted through consumption of unpasteurized milk or milk products.

Q Fever most often causes flu-like symptoms in people including fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches, weakness, sore throat and cough. Antibiotics may be used to treat Q Fever, and most people recover fully.

People who are immunocompromised may develop chronic Q Fever, which can lead to life-threatening complications. These complications include hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) and endocarditis (inflammation of the heart valves). Up to 65% of people with chronic Q Fever die from the disease.

Q Fever is a suspected weapon of bioterrorism. If you suspect an intentional release of Q Fever, contact local law enforcement immediately.



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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.