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Q-Fever: It's B-A-A-A-D News

What Is It?

Q-fever is a zoonotic disease caused by the rickettsial microorganism, Coxiella burnetti. In most cases, Q-fever is a vague flu-like illness, but hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) may occur as well as an infrequent endocarditis (inflammation of the heart lining) that is a potentially fatal complication. The disease has an incubation period of 2-4 weeks, after which the patient has abrupt onset of high fever, headache, shaking, chills, muscle aches, and anorexia. A nonproductive cough and chest x-ray reveals pneumonitis (inflammation of the lungs) in about half of the patients. Hepatitis can be documented by palpation of an enlarged liver and elevated liver enzymes on serum chemistry profiles. Although Q-fever endocarditis is an uncommon but often fatal complication, the condition tends to occur in persons with existing valvular heart disease or those who have prosthetic heart valves.

How Is Q-Fever Spread?

Sheep, cattle, and goats are their reservoirs (carriers) of infection for humans and shed the rickettsia in urine, feces, milk, and especially in birth products. Human Q-fever infections have frequently been associated with the handling of asymptomatic pregnant ewes. Q-fever is well recognized as an occupational hazard of persons working with animals or animal products, and laboratory workers handling Coxiella burnetti. However, Q-fever outbreaks have occurred in biomedical facilities using sheep that involved personnel that were not directly involved in handling the sheep or sheep products. Consequently, guidelines have been developed for reducing the risk of human infection with Q-fever in facilities where sheep are used for research.

How Is Q-Fever Diagnosed?

If an acute Q-fever infection is suspected, a medical history, occupational history, and routine lab work should be performed to make an initial diagnosis. Testing of patient serum samples at the onset of the disease and during recovery are used to confirm the diagnosis of Q-fever.

What Is The Treatment For Q-Fever?

Treatment with tetracycline for two weeks may shorten the duration of fever if administered during the first three days of illness: therefore, the drug may be administered or an acute suspect case with a compatible exposure history while awaiting serological confirmation.

Q-Fever Outbreak Prevention

Enter the animal facility only if you have assigned responsibilities to this area. If you enter an area where sheep are maintained, follow any posted biohazard sign instructions listed. Participate in the serological surveillance program and report any flu-like illness (if you have exposure to sheep) to the Occupational Health Clinic.

If you would like further information regarding Q-fever, please call University Health Services at 448-5630.

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Crisis Information

Information about what to do in case of various emergencies.


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910 Madison Ave. Suite 922
Memphis, Tennessee 38163
Phone: 901-448-5630
Fax: 901-448-7255