Q fever usually is a mild disease with flu-like symptoms. Many people have no symptoms at all. But in a small percentage of people, the infection can resurface years later. This more deadly form of Q fever can damage your heart, liver, brain and lungs.
Q fever is transmitted to humans by animals, most commonly sheep, goats and cattle. When you inhale barnyard dust particles contaminated by infected animals, you may become infected. High-risk occupations include farmers, veterinarians and people who work with sheep in research labs.
The mild form of Q fever typically clears up within a few weeks with no treatment. But if Q fever recurs, you may need to take a combination of antibiotics for at least 18 months.
Many people infected with Q fever never show symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you'll notice them about two to three weeks after exposure to the bacteria. Signs and symptoms may include:
Q fever is caused by a type of bacteria called Coxiella burnetii, most commonly found in sheep, goats and cattle. It also can infect pets, such as cats, dogs and rabbits.
These animals transmit the bacteria through their urine, feces, milk and birthing products — such as the placenta and amniotic fluid. When these substances dry, the bacteria in them become part of the barnyard dust that floats in the air. The infection is usually transmitted to humans through their lungs, when they inhale contaminated barnyard dust.
Certain factors can increase your risk of being infected with Q fever bacteria, including:
Risks for chronic Q fever
A Q fever recurrence can affect your heart, liver, lungs and brain, giving rise to serious complications, such as:
Preparing for your appointment
You might first bring your symptoms to the attention of your family doctor, but he or she might refer you to an infectious disease specialist.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose Q fever, your doctor will perform one or more blood tests, along with additional tests if chronic Q fever is suspected.
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for Q fever depends on the severity of your symptoms. Mild or nonsymptomatic cases of acute Q fever often get better in about two weeks with no treatment.
A Q fever vaccine is available in the United States, but a different vaccine that originated in Australia has been studied more thoroughly. You may want to consider vaccination if you're at high risk of developing Q fever complications and you work in an environment that may expose you to the disease.
Last Updated: 2011-07-07
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