Q fever is a disease caused by the Coxiella burnetii bacterium. It leads to reproductive issues in animals. Coxiella burnetii can survive in the environment for several years.

This is a zoonotic disease, which means that animals can transmit it to humans. Most frequently, infected people are workers (for example, farmers) or hobbyists who came into contact with an animal carrying the bacteria.

At-risk animals

The disease affects mainly domesticated ruminants like sheep, goats and cattle.

The many mammals that can be infected include cats, dogs, rodents, rabbits and hares.

Wild birds can also be infected.

Signs of the disease

Most of the time, animals infected with Q fever do not show any symptoms. However, the bacterium can cause infertility, abortions or stillbirths.

Infected animals that do not show any symptoms can still transmit the disease to humans.

Protection and prevention

Several measures can help prevent this disease in animals and transmission to humans.

Always wash your hands after touching animals or visiting a farm, especially before eating or touching your mouth with your hands.

Avoid handling animals less than one-month old or touching their mother. Do not visit sheep pens during the birthing season. 

It is recommended to drink pasteurized milk only.

For farmers

Isolate females from the rest of the herd or flock during late gestation and early lactation.

Do not allow visitors in the buildings where the animals are located during the birthing season and make them aware of the risks. This instruction applies particularly to pregnant women and people with a weak immune system or a cardiac deficiency.

Animals in late gestation, females that gave birth during the previous month or young animals less than a month old should not be taken to exhibitions or to small farms open to the public, such as Easter farms.

Wear gloves, a NIOSH-certified N-95 mask and protective goggles to attend a birth or handle the placenta. Carefully dispose of placental tissue to prevent contaminated microdroplets from appearing.

When shearing, wear gloves and a mask to handle the wool and stack it in bales.

Choose extended composting and handle manure carefully prior to spreading it on the fields. Avoid all spreading in windy conditions and bury the manure as quickly as possible. 

In humans

Humans can be infected with Q fever in different ways, such as through:

  • Contact with the excrement, urine and milk of infected animals
  • Contact with the placenta and liquids secreted during an abortion or birth
  • Inhaling contaminated dust or microdroplets suspended in the air
  • In rare cases, insect bites, from person to person
  • Drinking contaminated raw milk

The  incubation period Read the content of the note 1 is generally of two to four weeks. 

Q fever can go unnoticed. Symptoms can be similar to those of the flu, such as a prolonged fever, strong headaches, heavy sweating, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or pneumonia. In rare cases, complications can occur.

In pregnant women, the disease can cause abortions or stillbirths.

The disease generally lasts 9 to 14 days. However, it can worsen, become chronic and lead to liver or heart problems.

Last update: January 8, 2024


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