Q fever

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Internal medicine

Clinical Definition

Q fever is an infectious disease caused by Coxiella burnetii, which is a Gram- negative intracellular bacterium. Cattle, sheep and dogs may be reservoirs for the organism. Transmission to humans occurs through contact with excretions from infected animals. Breathing aerosols from contaminated barnyard dust can also lead to infection. Q fever may be either chronic or acute in nature. Clinical presentation often includes flu-like symptoms.

In Our Own Words

Q fever is a worldwide disease caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii. In the United States, it is relatively rare, and only 131 cases were reported in 2010. Animals can become infected with the bacteria, but often do not show any symptoms. However, people can become infected if they have contact with the urine, feces or milk of these infected animals.


Animal shedding may also contaminate surrounding soil and dust, in which the bacteria can live for a long time. Breathing in contaminated dust particles is another cause of infection in humans.


Q fever usually triggers flu symptoms. Although uncommon, complications may include pneumonia and inflammation of the liver.  

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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Q Fever.” Updated September 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/qfever/index.html. Accessed September 2013.
  • New York State Department of Health. “Q Fever.” http://www.health.ny.gov. Accessed September 2013.
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