Q Fever 2003

Q fever is caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii and is a zoonotic disease affecting several species of animals including humans. Ticks are the primary reservoir and maintain disease cycles in rodents, other mammals, and birds. Cattle, sheep, and goats can carry the infection without signs or symptoms and shed high levels of bacteria when birthing. Birth products (placenta and fluids) are often highly contaminated. The bacteria are highly resistant to natural degradation and can persist in the environment for weeks to months. Q fever may result from infection by a single organism and the low infectious dose enhances transmission efficiency.

Human infections generally occur through inhalation of aerosols of contaminated barnyard dust, by handling of birthing products from shedding animals, or by drinking unpasteurized milk. Humans may have an asymptomatic, acute, mild to severe disease that can be highly fatal or result in chronic infection that can cause significant morbidity, if untreated.

In the five-year period 1999-2003, only one case of Q fever was reported in Indiana. The reported 2003 Indiana case was associated with exposure to cattle.

Q fever is classified as a Category B potential bioterrorism agent because of its ability to cause infection with a low number of organisms, resistance to environmental degradation, and the ability to cause infection via aerosolization.

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