What is Q Fever?

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  • Written By: Garry Crystal
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 13 January 2019
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Q fever is a highly infectious condition with symptoms similar to those of influenza. The infection can be passed from infected animals to humans, but it cannot be passed from human to human. Although Q fever is highly infectious, it is a relatively rare condition. However, once a person has contracted the infection, it can become chronic and may require several years of treatment.

Common symptoms of Q fever are headaches, sweating, and a high fever. There may also be signs of weight loss and pain in the joints and muscles. Chest or abdominal pains and an irritating dry cough are also possible symptoms. Sufferers have also been known to experience sensitivity to light.

After the infection has been contracted, the symptoms of Q fever appear within two to three weeks. The symptoms last from between two to fourteen days. In some cases, no symptoms are apparent in an infected person.

Chronic Q fever is a very serious condition. People who suffer from heart conditions or diseases such as cancer and kidney disease are more susceptible to Q fever. People with a lowered immune system due to illness or disease are also more at risk due to the inability of their immune system to combat infection.


Bacteria called Coxiella burnetii, which are found in livestock, are the cause of Q fever. Although they are most common in sheep and cattle, these bacteria can also be found in cats and dogs. The bacteria can leave an infected animal through its blood, milk, urine, and feces. If the bacteria become airborne, they can stay alive for many months at a temperature of 15 to 20°C (59 to 68°F).

People who are most at risk from Q fever are those who work directly with livestock. The bacteria can be contracted through inhalation of the airborne particles or through the consumption of infected, unpasteurized milk. The illness can also be contracted by touching infected milk, blood, feces, or urine. The infection can also be passed through open cuts in the skin.

Diagnosis of Q fever requires blood tests, which show the presence of the Q fever bacteria if the person has become infected. A low platelet blood count is another sign of the condition. Q fever affects the way that blood is made up.

The symptoms of Q fever should disappear on their own in time. However, if the infection is severe, then the symptoms can recur. Antibiotics will be necessary if the infection is severe. They must be taken for around three weeks. If the infection is chronic, treatment can last for several years.

Steps can be taken in order to reduce the risk of Q fever. These include immediate disposal of any birth products from animals. Never drink unpasteurized milk and do not touch anything that has been in contact with animal blood, urine, or feces.



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