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Q fever possible among travelers returning from Iraq and the Netherlands

Sandstorm in a Middle Eastern was zone.  Spores of Coxiella burnetii can be transmitted like this.
Sandstorm in a Middle Eastern was zone. Spores of Coxiella burnetii can be transmitted like this.
Photo: From

In a press release dated May 12, 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
reported an increase in the number Q fever infections among U.S. military personnel deployed in Iraq.
Given the nationwide distribution of military units deployed to the region, this finding could impact those returning to the Tuscaloosa and West Alabama areas.  Since 2003, there have more than 200 cases of Q fever reported in individuals who have been deployed to Iraq.  This is due to the widespread presence of the causative organism in that particular locale and throughout the Middle East.

Additionally, CDC reported an outbreak in the Netherlands that is still ongoing with over 3,700 individuals infected from 2007 through March of this year.  Infected dairy goat farms in the southern region of the country are believed to be the source of the outbreak.  To date, no domestic cases of Q fever have been reported among American travelers returning home from the Netherlands.

Q fever is an infection that is typically associated with animals, but may be transmitted to humans. The infection is caused by intracellular bacteria, Coxiella burnetii, which can exist in bacterial form, or as a spore.  Human infection is typically by inhalation of the spores through aerosols or dust contaminated by infected animals, usually cattle, sheep or goats.  Direct animal contact is not required for transmission to occur as the spores may be spread by dust or wind.  Infection does occur in the United States, although fewer than 200 cases are reported in any given year.

Q fever infections may occur without any noticeable symptoms.  However, infections accompanied by an unexplained febrile illness, pneumonia and/or hepatitis, are the most common.  The mortality rate is low at only 1-2 % in acute cases.  Symptoms usually begin 2 to 3 weeks after exposure and most individuals can recover on their own.  Antibiotic treatment will typically shorten the length of the illness as well as lessen the risk of any complications.  Chronic Q fever is not common, occurring in <1% of acutely infected patients.  A Q fever vaccine is not commercially available in the United States and antibiotic prophylaxis is not recommended.

Additional information may be obtained at this CDC website, or by contacting your local County Health Department.

Visit the Birmingham Health Technology Examiner for additional articles on infectious disease and health technology.



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