Q Fever

Most herds and flocks in the USA are infected with Coxiella burnetii, the bacterium that causes Q fever.

  • While there is a low risk of exposure from healthy cattle, sheep or goats, the highest risk of exposure to Q fever is from placental membranes, birthing fluids, and fetuses from infected sheep, goats, and cattle.
    • The bacteria can become airborne, particularly during births and cleaning of birthing areas.
  • In most individuals, the disease manifests itself as a flu-like illness that resolves in 10-14 days.
  • Women of child-bearing age or who are pregnant should be aware that this bacterium may cause miscarriage or other problems with the human fetus.
  • Employees should report occupational exposure to their physician if clinical signs of illness are noted.
  • Rarely, a person may develop a chronic infection with the Q fever organism. This can cause endocarditis - an infection on the valves of the heart that can be fatal.
  • Individuals with the following conditions should be advised of the risk of serious illness that may result from Q fever and should be discouraged from working with sheep, cattle, and goats at the time of parturition.
    • Congenital heart disease
    • Prior valvular heart disease
    • Chronically compromised or impaired immune system
    • Pregnancy