Q fever is a bacterial infection that can cause a severe flu-like illness. For some people, Q fever can affect their health and ability to work for many years. The bacteria are spread from animals, mainly cattle, sheep and goats. Even people who do not have contact with animals may be infected. A safe and effective vaccine is available to protect people who are at risk. Screening is required to identify who can be vaccinated.
What is Q fever?
Q fever is a disease caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii. It is spread to humans from cattle, sheep and goats and a range of other domestic and wild animals. Even people who do not have contact with animals may be infected.
What are the symptoms?
Many infected people have no or few symptoms. People who do become sick often have a severe flu-like illness. Symptoms begin about 2-3 weeks after coming into contact with the bacteria and typically include:
- high fevers and chills
- severe ‘drenching’ sweats
- severe headaches, often behind the eyes
- muscle and joint pains
- extreme fatigue (tiredness)
Patients may also develop hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) or pneumonia (infection of the lungs). Without treatment, symptoms can last from 2-6 weeks. Illness often results in time off work, lasting from a few days to several weeks. Most people make a full recovery and become immune to repeat infections. Occasionally, people develop chronic infections up to 2 years later which can cause a range of health issues including heart problems (endocarditis). This is more common for pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems or previous heart problems. About 10% of patients who are sick with acute Q fever go on to suffer from a chronic-fatigue-like illness which can be very debilitating for years.