Fact sheets - Q fever fact sheet (2024)

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 as well as other domestic and wild animals. Even people who do not have contact with animals can be infected.

What are the symptoms?

Many people with Q fever have no symptoms or only a mild illness. 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). These complications are 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 serious for years.

How you can get infected with Q fever

You can get infected with Q fever by:

  • breathing in the bacteria that is in the air or dust:
    • while birthing, slaughtering or butchering infected animals (especially cattle, sheep or goats). These activities carry a very high risk of infection.
    • when handling infected animals, infected animal tissues, fluids or excretions or animal products or materials that have been infected including wool, hides, straw, manure fertiliser and clothes (e.g. washing clothes worn when birthing, butchering or slaughtering animals)
    • while herding, shearing or transporting animals
    • while mowing grass contaminated by infected animal excretions
    • when visiting, living or working in/near a high-risk industry
  • direct contact with infected animal tissue or fluids on broken skin (e.g. cuts or needlestick injuries when working with infected animals)
  • drinking unpasteurised milk from infected cows, sheep and goats.

Who is at risk?

Workers in the following occupations are at high risk of Q fever:

  • abattoir and meat workers
  • livestock and dairy farmers
  • farm workers
  • shearers, wool classers/sorters, pelt and hide processors
  • stockyard/feedlot workers and transporters of animals, animal products and waste
  • veterinarians, veterinary nurses/assistants/students and others working with veterinary specimens
  • wildlife workers working with high-risk animals (including Australian native wildlife)
  • agriculture college staff and students (working with high-risk animals)
  • laboratory workers (working with the bacteria or with high-risk veterinary specimens)
  • animal shooters/hunters
  • dog/cat breeders, and anyone regularly exposed to animals who are due to give birth
  • pet food manufacturing workers
  • people whose work involves regular mowing in areas frequented by livestock or wild animals (e.g. council employees, golf course workers or staff of mowing businesses in regional and rural areas).

All workers who enter workplaces in which Q fever may be present are also at risk of infection. This includes tradespeople, contractors, labour hire workers, sales representatives, buyers, emergency services workers and council workers.

Other people at increased risk of Q fever include:

  • family members of those in high-risk occupations (from contaminated clothes, boots or equipment)
  • people living on or near a high-risk industry (e.g. neighbouring livestock farms, stockyards housing cattle/sheep/goats, meatworks, land being fertilised with untreated animal manure)
  • visitors to at-risk environments (e.g. farms, abattoirs, animal saleyards and agricultural shows)
  • people in contact with high-risk animals outside of work
  • people in regional and rural areas who are more likely to breathe contaiminated dust and particles in the environment
  • horticulturists or gardeners in environments where dust, potentially contaminated by animal urine, faeces or birth products, is aerosolised (e.g. lawn mowing).

How is it prevented?

A safe and effective vaccine (Q-VAX®) is the best way to prevent Q fever infection. Vaccination is highly recommended for people who work or intend to work in high-risk occupations. Vaccination is also recommended for everyone aged 15 years and over who has the potential to be exposed to Q fever during activities outside of work, or in the environments in which they live or visit.

To reduce your risk of infection:

  • wash hands and arms thoroughly in soapy water after any contact with animals
  • wear a properly fitted P2 mask (available from pharmacies and hardware stores) and gloves
  • cover wounds with waterproof dressings when handling or disposing of animal products including waste, placentas, and aborted foetuses. This should not be considered a substitute for Q fever vaccination.
  • wear a properly fitted P2 mask when mowing or gardening in areas where there are livestock or native animals
  • wash animal urine, faeces, blood and other body fluids from equipment and surfaces where possible
  • remove and wash dirty clothing, coveralls and boots worn during high-risk activities in outdoor wash areas. Avoid taking these items home to reduce the risk of infection to your household. If you do take them home, bag and wash them separately (these items should only be handled by those who have had Q fever before, or are vaccinated against Q fever).

How is it diagnosed?

A Q fever diagnosis is based on symptoms and if the person may have come into contact with the bacteria in the previous 6 weeks. Make sure you tell your doctor if you belong to one of the risk groups described above.

How is it treated?

Early treatment with antibiotics can get you better sooner and reduce your risk of long-term complications. It is important to seek early medical attention if you develop symptoms of Q fever and are in one of the groups at risk of infection. Chronic (long-term) Q fever infection may require long-term antibiotics.

What is the public health response?

Laboratories must notify the local public health unit of any confirmed Q fever cases. Public health unit staff investigate each case to determine the likely source of infection, identify other people at risk of infection, ensure control measures are in place and provide information to cases.

Employers must notify SafeWork NSW about Q fever infections in workers that may have been acquired in their workplace. Fines apply to employers who do not notify SafeWork NSW.

Further information

See related factsheets on Q Fever Vaccination, Q Fever and Farms and Q Fever and Veterinary Staff.

For further information on managing Q fever exposure in the workplace including employer responsibilities see the SafeWork NSW Q fever guidance or contact SafeWork NSW on 13 10 50.

For further information please call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.

Fact sheets - Q fever fact sheet (2024)


Fact sheets - Q fever fact sheet? ›

In those who do, Q fever often begins with sudden onset of one or more of the following: high fever (up to 104-105° F), severe headache, fatigue, muscle pain, confusion, sore throat, chills, sweats, dry cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and chest pain. Fever usually lasts for 1-2 weeks.

What are some facts about Q fever? ›

Q fever is a common zoonosis (infection that could transmit from animals to humans), caused by Coxiella burnetii. Natural reservoirs include several domestic and wild animals, most of which show no signs of disease (although infection can cause abortions).

What does the CDC recommend for Q fever? ›

Most people who are infected with Coxiella burnetii have no symptoms, or mild symptoms, and will recover without antibiotic treatment. For people who develop symptomatic Q fever, treatment with 2 weeks of the antibiotic doxycycline is recommended.

Does Q fever ever go away? ›

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).

How many people have died from Q fever? ›

Mortality. Of the 585 chronic Q fever patients, 107 patients have died as a result of or related to chronic Q fever. Since the last update in 2018 (86 deaths), 21 more have been added. With the already known 9 deaths due to acute Q fever during the outbreak, this brings the total number of deaths to 116.

Which organ is affected by Q fever? ›

Q fever can cause a wide variety of symptoms, but the most common ones are flu-like. The bacterium that causes it, C. burnetii, can infect your lungs, heart, brain, bones or other parts of your body and cause symptoms there.

What is the prognosis for Q fever? ›

Acute Q fever has an excellent prognosis when promptly diagnosed and treated. Patients with known valvular heart disease and pregnant females with acute Q fever are at risk of developing endocarditis. Monitoring serology at frequent intervals and an echocardiogram for elevated serologic titers is recommended.

What is the gold standard for Q fever? ›

A fourfold increase in phase II immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody titer by immunofluorescent assay (IFA) of paired acute and convalescent specimens is the diagnostic gold standard to confirm diagnosis of acute Q fever.

What is the fastest way to get rid of Q fever? ›

Q fever is commonly treated with antibiotics. If you have a mild infection you're likely to recover quickly. If you have chronic Q fever, you may need to take antibiotics for up to 18 months.

What is the most important way to protect humans from Q fever? ›

​Q fever is a disease that is spread to humans from animals, mainly infected cattle, sheep, goats. It can cause a severe flu-like illness. People who live, work on or visit a livestock farm are at risk. Vaccination of people is the best way to prevent infection.

What mimics Q fever? ›

Conclusion: The non-specific presentation of Q fever, accompanied by elevated inflammatory markers, and autoimmune antibodies can mimic various rheumatologic conditions including vasculitis, Still's disease, and sarcoidosis.

What is the most frequent damage to chronic Q fever? ›

The most common manifestation of chronic Q fever is inflammation of the thin membrane lining the inside of the heart and heart valves (infective endocarditis), potentially damaging the heart valves or heart tissue.

Is Q fever an autoimmune disease? ›

In addition to the frequent presence of autoantibodies, Q fever has long been known to mimic autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, Crohn disease, and vasculitides such as Kawasaki disease, polyarteritis nodosa, giant-cell arteritis, and antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody–associated vasculitis [9, ...

Can you be immune to Q fever? ›

A positive skin test or blood test indicates you have been in contact with Q fever bacteria in the past. This means you cannot be vaccinated as you are at an increased risk of a serious reaction to the vaccine. It also means you are likely to be immune to Q fever infection.

Can Q fever be contagious? ›

Usually, Q fever is not contagious. Rarely, infection has been transmitted from one person to another by blood transfusion or bone marrow transplant. An obstetrician may have been infected by an infected patient when delivering her baby. Sexual transmission also may occur rarely.

Who is most susceptible to Q fever? ›

People at Risk

People who live or spend time near ranches and livestock facilities are at increased risk for Q fever infection. Studies have shown that people with a history of heart valve defects, endocarditis, or heart valve implants may have increased risk of chronic infection and severe disease.

Why is Q fever called Q fever? ›

Q fever is a zoonotic or animal infection which spreads to humans, and occurs all over the world. The name was derived from “Query fever” because it was a mystery fever when first described, in an abattoir in Australia.

What are some fun facts about Coxiella burnetii? ›

C. burnetii forms unusual spore-like structures that are highly resistant to environmental conditions, including heat, drying, and many common disinfectants. These characteristics enable the bacterium to survive for long periods (up to 120 days) in the environment.

Does Q fever have a vaccine? ›

The Q fever vaccine (Q-VAX®) has been licensed for use in Australia since 1989 and has shown to be highly effective in preventing Q fever infection. Since the introduction of vaccination for high-risk occupations, the rates of Q fever infection have dropped significantly. The vaccine is made in Australia.

How does Q fever affect animals? ›

Q fever is a widespread disease caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii, which is able to infect mammals, birds, reptiles and arthropods. It causes a mild disease in ruminants, but can cause abortions and still births in cattle, sheep and goats. It is also a zoonosis, a disease of animals that can infect humans.


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