Q fever is a disease caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii which is found worldwide. The bacteria naturally infects some animals, such as goats, sheep and cattle. C. burnetii bacteria are found in the birth products (i.e. placenta, amniotic fluid), urine, feces, and milk of infected animals. The bacteria may be misused as a biological agent.
Some people never get sick; however those that do usually develop flu-like symptoms including:
- Chills or sweats
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Muscle aches
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
- Weight loss
- Non-productive cough
Most patients become ill within 2-3 weeks after exposure to the bacteria, however many people infected with Q fever will not have any symptoms.
Transmission commonly occurs through inhalation of contaminated dust or aerosols from placental tissues, birth fluids, after-birth, milk, urine and feces of infected animals. Contamination also occurs through direct contact with contaminated materials, such as wool, straw, and laundry. Eating or drinking unpasteurized milk products from infected cattle or goats can also cause disease. Person to person spread is very rare.
Q fever diagnosis is made by your doctor from one or more blood tests. Additional tests may be necessary if chronic Q fever is suspected.
Most people who are sick with Q fever will recover without antibiotic treatment. Antibiotics are recommended for people who develop Q fever disease. Several months of antibiotic treatment is necessary for individuals with chronic Q fever.
After a person develops and recovers from Q fever, they should not get it again.
There have been no known indigenous cases in Hawaii.
There is no vaccine available for Q fever in the United States.
Some ways to prevent the spread of Q fever are:
- Avoid contact with animals, especially while animals are giving birth. Animals may be infected but appear healthy.
- Properly dispose of birth products from cattle, sheep and goats.
- Restrict access to barns and laboratories housing possibly infected animals.
- Use only pasteurized milk and milk products.
- Quarantine imported animals.
- Locate holding pens for sheep and goats away from areas where there are a lot of people. Animals should be tested for exposure to C. burnetii.
- Wash your hands after touching animals and surfaces where animals have been housed.
Certain professions are at increased risk for exposure to C. burnetii, including veterinarians, meat processing plant workers, dairy workers, livestock farmers, and researchers at facilities housing sheep and goats. Educating persons in high-risk occupations on sources of infection is essential in preventing the spread of Q fever.
Q fever is a URGENT notifiable condition and must be reported by phone to the Disease Outbreak Control Division, Disease Investigation Branch on Oahu, or to the District Health Office on the neighbor islands as soon as a provisional diagnosis is established.
Disease Reporting Phone Numbers (24/7)
Oahu (Disease Investigation Branch): (808) 586-4586
Maui District Health Office: (808) 984-8213
Kauai District Health Office: (808) 241-3563
Big Island District Health Office (Hilo): (808) 933-0912
Big Island District Health Office (Kona): (808) 322-4877
After hours on Oahu: (808) 600-3625
After hours on neighbor islands: (800) 360-2575 (toll free)
For more information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Last Reviewed: May 2019