Q fever is short for Query fever and is a bacterial infection caused by Coxiella burnetii. This bacterial infection is commonly found in goats, cattle, and sheep. Infected animals contaminate the environment around them, and when humans inhale that dust, they develop Q fever.
People who work around these animals – such as farmers and veterinarians – are most susceptible to this infection. The symptoms of mild Q fever are insignificant. However, if left untreated, it becomes chronic and can become very serious, as it starts damaging a person’s organs, including:
Coxiella burnetii bacteria first infect animals that are mainly found in the amniotic fluid, placenta, and other birth products of the infected animals. The bacteria present in farm animals like goats, sheep, and cattle also transmits through milk, feces, and urine.
These substances present in the barnyard tend to contaminate the dust, which affects the overall environment. Breathing into this air can transmit the Q fever to humans. In some cases, even drinking unpasteurized milk from an infected animal can also cause infection.
It can take up to three weeks for the Q fever symptoms to appear. It is also possible that the symptoms may not appear at all. Generally, the symptoms of Q fever are mild, and may only include:
- Sweats or chills
- High fever
- A cough
- A headache
- Breathing problems
- Clay-colored stools
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle pain
The symptoms alone may not be enough to diagnose Q fever. In case the doctor suspects the condition, they may ask if you live or work in an environment that put you at risk of getting more exposure to the bacteria.
The most common way to diagnose Q fever is to get a blood antibody test. However, there are still chances for the antibody test to appear negative if the bacteria has just been transferred. Thus, it requires the expertise of the doctor to determine whether or not it requires treatment.
For chronic Q fever, chest X-rays and tests to check heart valves are usually carried out.
Treatment of Q fever depends on how severe the symptoms are. Milder Q fever may not require treatment at all. For severe symptoms, doctors may prescribe antibiotics. Most doctors prescribe doxycycline as the preferred antibiotic for both adults and children.
In case you are suspecting the condition, you should still start taking the treatment right away to keep the symptoms from becoming severe.