What Is Q Fever?
Q fever is the name of a disease that animals transmit to people. Doctors first noticed it in 1935 and gave it the name Q fever because they couldn’t figure out what it was. The letter “Q” comes from “query” or “question.”
After investigating, they discovered that the agent that caused Q fever is the Coviella burnetii bacteria. This generally lives in domestic animals like cows, goats, sheep, and other mammals. However, it usually doesn’t cause health problems in animals.
Although Q fever can happen at any time of the year, it mainly occurs in the spring and the beginning of the summer. In fact, most cases take place between April and May.
Origins of Q fever
Q fever is usually a mild illness very similar to the flu. However, there’s also a deadly form of this disease. In fact, it can cause damage to the brain, heart, liver and lungs. Other people have no symptoms.
The bacterium Coxiella burnetii, which causes the disease, is usually in the products of animal births. In other words, it’s in the placenta and amniotic fluid. In addition, it’s also in the milk, urine and feces of infected animals.
Some people become infected even without having direct contact with animals. Simply inhaling dust that has been contaminated by feces, urine or birth products of infected animals can be contagious. Likewise, the bacteria is also in the unpasteurized milk of these animals.
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Characteristics and symptoms
Approximately out of every 10 people who get the bacteria, only 5 will have symptoms. Typically, these show up about two to three weeks after exposure to the bacteria. In fact, the most common symptoms are:
- Fever with chills and sweat
- Headaches and muscle aches
- Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Chest pain and/or abdominal pain
- Dry cough
- Weight loss
All of these symptoms can be either mild or severe. If the infection is in the lungs or liver, it can cause pneumonia or hepatitis, respectively. In addition, if pregnant women get it, there’s a risk of miscarriage.
Just under five people out of every 100 develop a chronic Q fever. This shows up months, or even years after the initial infection. It’s a serious problem that can be fatal since one or more heart valves are usually infected.
Risk factors of Q fever
It’s clear that the bacterium is present in some domestic animals. However, it can also be in some wild animals and in ticks. Therefore, the main risk factor is direct or indirect contact with all these animals.
Obviously, those with the greatest risk of infection are workers in farms or slaughterhouses. In addition, veterinarians, researchers, and food processors are at risk as well. Also, men are more likely than women to contract this disease.
The vast majority of Q fever cases are people between 30 and 70 years old. In fact, it’s very rare for kids to get sick with this disease. When they do, they have symptoms of pneumonia.
Other interesting facts
People with these conditions are at a greater risk of becoming chronically ill with this disease:
- History of heart valve problems
- Abnormalities in the blood vessels
- Weakened immune system
- Pregnant women
Currently, there isn’t a vaccine against Q fever. Therefore, it’s important to prevent it as best as you can. In general, it’s important to not drink unpasteurized milk from any animal.
For those who work with animals or live on farms, pay attention if you notice this disease. In addition, go to the doctor if you have symptoms. People that are at high risk should not have contact with animals.