Q fever, also known as query fever, can be defined as a bacterial infection caused due to the bacteria Coxiella burnetii. Characterized by flu-like symptoms, this infection is usually transmitted to humans via animals, most commonly sheep, goats and cattle infected with the bacterium. When one inhales the barnyard dust particles contaminated by the infected animals, one gets infected easily. People involved in occupations like farming, veterinary medicine and animal research are at high risk of getting Q fever. This bacteria is found in large quantities in the “birth products” (i.e., placenta, amniotic fluid) of the infected animals.
Although mild symptoms may clear away on its own within a few weeks, there are some who have a chronic form of the infection which may often take 6 months or more to subside. In more chronic cases, the infection might resurface after several years and can take a more deadly form eventually leading to damage of the liver, heart brain and lungs.
Q fever is chiefly caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii, which is commonly found in farming animals like cattle, sheep, and goats, although it can also exist in pets, including cats, dogs and rabbits.
When these infected animals discharge milk, urine, faeces and birthing components like amniotic fluid and placenta, the bacteria in them still lives. When these substances dry up gradually, the dried substance along with the live bacteria form a part of the barnyard dust floating all around. When humans inhale this contaminated air, the bacteria reach the lungs causing the infection.
Certain causative factors that aggravate the risk of being infected with Q fever bacteria, include:
Gender: Men are more prone to developing symptomatic acute Q fever than the female counterpart.
Occupation: People involved with certain occupations where they are exposed to animals and animal products as part of their daily job including veterinary medicine, meat processing facilities, livestock farming, dairy industry and animal research are more prone to developing Q Fever.
Locality: Even staying near a farm or a farming facility where the bacteria can travel along with air puts one at a higher risk of getting diagnosed with this infection.
Health Conditions: People diagnosed with health anomalies like weakened immune systems, heart valve disease, blood vessel abnormalities or impaired kidney functions are more at risk of getting infected with the Q fever bacterium too.
Time Of The Year: Although Q fever can occur at any time of the year, but the number of infections chiefly peaks around late spring and early summer i.e., in April and May.
Although many people donot show any characteristic symptoms even if they have the bacterium in their body, others usually notice common symptoms 3 to 30 days of getting exposed to the Q fever bacteria. These common signs and symptoms include:
- High fever, up to 105 F (41 C)
- Intense headache
- Severe fatigue
- Chest pain while trying to breathe
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain
- Clay-coloured faeces
- Sensitivity to light
- Muscle pain
If the infection is left untreated or if there is any recurrence of the fever, it can affect the heart, liver, lungs and brain, giving rise to serious health complications, such as:
- Pregnancy problems
- Lung issues
- Liver damage
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, do consult a doctor immediately to avoid further health deterioration or complication. The doctor usually does a thorough physical check-up, acknowledges the patient’s past occupational history, locality, health condition and does a few diagnostics. These include:
- Blood Test to determine the presence of antibodies to the Coxiella burnetii antigen and also look for evidence of liver damage.
- Imaging techniques like Chest X-ray, Echocardiography etc.
The available treatment options usually depend upon the severity of the disease and involves intake of prescribed antibiotics.
- In case of mild or asymptomatic Q fever, the infection often subsides on its own.
- In case of acute form of Q-fever, the antibiotic treatment usually lasts for 2-3 weeks.
- In case of chronic form of Q-fever, the doctor usually prescribes the antibiotic therapy for 18 months or more.
- In the case of severe form of Q fever accompanied with endocarditis, the doctor may perform a surgery to replace the damaged heart valves.