Q fever is an infection caused by the bacterium known as Coxiella burnetii. The bacterium affects both humans and animals, like cattle, and other farm animals, and even pets like cats and dogs. Often, exposure to infected animals might lead to humans becoming infected.
The Causative Agent: Bacterium Coxiella burnetii
Coxiella burnetii is an obligate intracellular pathogen, that is, it has to remain inside cells for its life to be sustained; it cannot reproduce outside of the host’s cells. It is a small Gram-negative bacterium which is specially resistant in the face of drastic environmental conditions. It has the ability to stand firm against high temperature, osmotic pressure, and even ultraviolet light. Moreover, the standard disinfectants cannot do away with it. These characteristics are conferred onto it by the biphasic developmental cycle it goes through.
Who Is Vulnerable To Q Fever?
Anyone exposed to the bacterium Coxiella burnetii can contract it, the more so for those who are particularly exposed to it, like veterinarians, sheep and dairy workers, farmers, and others working with cattle.
How is Q Fever Spread?
Among the main hosts of the disease are sheep, goats and cattle. Q fever is contagious, such that contact with the excretions of these animals are enough for one to be infected. The excretions include milk, urine, faeces of infected animals. When dealing with pregnant animals, handling the placenta during childbirth can also cause infection.
Infection can also occur when humans take in air contaminated with barnyard dust.
The bacterium is quite a potent one, as it can remain alive for long periods of time in soil and dust. Moreover, a small number of the organisms can cause infection.
Symptoms of Q Fever
After exposure to the bacterium, the symptoms begin to appear 2 to 3 weeks later. The chronic diseases may evolve up to 2 years after infection.
- High fevers
- Severe headache
- Sore throat
- Coughing (dry cough)
- Muscle pain
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
The fever might persist for a long time: up to two weeks.
50 % of infected people do not, however, experience such symptoms.
Q fever might entail further complications: atypical pneumonia may occur leading to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Even more rarely, Q fever can cause hepatitis. Other chronic illnesses like endocarditis (a heart disease) can result from Q fever.
How Contagious Is Q fever?
Exposure to infected animal and to dust might lead to infection. Infection spreading from person to person is also a possibility, but, this is very rare.
Treatment for Q-Fever
Doxycycline is administered to infected people. This should be done for 15 to 21 days. Chronic diseases having evolved after infection with the bacterium, like endocarditis, would require prolonged administration of the antibiotics.
Prevention Against Q-Fever
- Direct contact with the animals excretions and placenta should be avoided.
- The proper equipment should be worn when handling the animals, like, gloves, arm sleeves, protective eyewear.
- Additional care should be taken during childbirth, and also when handling aborted foetuses.
- Vaccination is another method of prevention. However, the vaccines are not as readily available.
- Consuming only pasteurised milk would decrease the risk of infection.