Q Fever

What is Q Fever?

Q Fever is a mild infection that produces flu-like symptoms, but is caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii rather than a virus. Humans get the disease from animals, including cows, sheep and goats. The bacteria is spread through the animals’ urine, feces and other body fluids. You can get it through direct contact or, most commonly, through breathing in dust that is contaminated.

People who work on farms or who have other careers with animals are more likely to get Q fever. Many people never show any symptoms, but in rare severe cases, complications can result that could cause serious illness.

Pregnant women are at increased risk of miscarriage if they contract Q fever.

What are the Symptoms of Q Fever?

Q fever can produce symptoms including a high fever, headache and muscle aches, chills or sweats, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and pain in the abdomen and chest. You may have sensitivity to light.

In rare cases, Q fever can lead to complications including pneumonia, liver inflammation, heart inflammation and central nervous system issues.

Some patients get recurring cases of Q fever. The coxiella burnetii bacteria can linger in a human host and pop back up after a period of several weeks to three years. About 10 to 25 percent of sufferers get a post-Q fever fatigue syndrome that includes symptoms of fatigue and headaches.

How is Q Fever Treated?

If you develop Q fever, your doctor will prescribe doxycycline, an antibiotic. For most illnesses, taking the antibiotic for two to three weeks is sufficient, but people who get a more severe or ongoing type of the disease may need to have longer runs of medications.

The biggest complication of Q fever, endocarditis, can damage the heart. You may need to have a replacement heart valve if the disease progresses in this way.

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Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
August 23, 2017