Q Fever

  • Medical Author:

    Dr. Eddie Hooker is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Louisville and at Wright State University. His areas of expertise include emergency medicine, epidemiology, health-services management, and public health.

  • Medical Author: Mary K. Bister, MD
  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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Where does the name Q fever come from? What causes Q fever?

When Q fever was first identified as a disease in the 1930s, the cause was unknown. The "Q" in Q fever stands for the word query. In 1937, Australian and American researchers discovered the bacterium that causes Q fever, Coxiella burnetii.

How does Q fever spread?

The bacterium that causes Q fever is found in the waste products (urine or feces) of infected animals. It can also be found in the milk of infected animals. Another main source of transmission is from contact with the placenta and other reproductive products from infected animals. The bacteria can be inhaled or ingested. Rarely, it can be spread through human-to-human contact or through tick bites. The bacteria can live for weeks in the environment. Exposure to just one Coxiella burnetii bacterium can cause Q fever.

Who is at risk for getting Q fever?

People most at risk for Q fever are those who work with the animals that can carry the disease or who live in parts of the world where it is common. Men are more often affected than are women, and adults more often than children. People with weakened immune systems are also at higher risk. Recently, some cases of Q fever have been reported in U.S. military personnel who have spent time in Afghanistan and Iraq. Because the organism that causes Q fever can live a long time in the environment, it can spread via dust particles blown to sites surrounding farms so even people without direct contact with animals can develop the disease.

Are there different forms of Q fever?

Q fever can present in an acute form and a chronic form. The acute form lasts for a few weeks, while the chronic form lasts for months to years.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/4/2015

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