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Q fever, which is caused by a rickettsial organism known as Coxiella burnetii, is primarily a disease of ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and goats, though many other animals may become infected. Humans usually acquire the disease by inhaling dust or aerosols contaminated by body fluids (especially birth products) from infected animals. Most cases occur in those who work directly with animals, such as farmers and slaughterhouse workers. However, since the organism can survive in extreme environmental conditions and only a single organism is necessary for infection, outbreaks may occur after indirect exposure. Less commonly, infection results from ingestion of infected animal products. Q fever is not transmitted from person-to-person, except for rare cases of transmission through breast milk.
Symptoms typically include fever, chills, nausea, headache, cough, and body aches. Complications may include pneumonia and hepatitis. Those who have abnormal heart valves may develop endocarditis (heart valve infection), which usually requires surgical replacement of the affected valve. In pregnant women, Q fever may lead to miscarriage. Those who are immuno-compromised due to steroids, cancer, or HIV disease are at greatest risk for complications.
Q fever may be treated with doxycycline or tetracycline. Limited data indicate that trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and the quinolone antibiotics may also be useful. A vaccine against Q fever is manufactured in Australia (Q-VAX; Commonwealth Serum Laboratories) but may not be available elsewhere.
From the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
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