Q Fever


What is Q Fever?

Q fever is an infectious disease caused by a rickettsia organism, Coxiella burnetii. Cattle, sheep, and goats are the primary reservoirs of C. burnetii. Infection has been noted in a wide variety of other animals, including other breeds of livestock and in domesticated pets, as well as ticks and birds. C. burnetii does not usually cause clinical disease in these animals, although abortion in goats and sheep has been linked to C. burnetii infection.

Human infection usually occurs by inhalation of dust infected with contaminated animal materials like dried placental material, birth fluids, and excreta of infected herd animals.


What are the symptoms of Q Fever?

Only about one-half of all people infected with C. burnetii show signs of clinical illness. Most acute cases of Q fever begin with sudden onset of one or more of the following: high fever, severe headache, general malaise (e.g. out of sorts), muscle soreness, confusion, sore throat, chills, sweats, non-productive cough (e.g. dry cough), nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and chest pain. Fever usually lasts for 1 to 2 weeks. Weight loss can occur and last for some time.

Up to half of patients with a symptomatic infection will develop pneumonia while a majority of patients will have abnormal results on liver function tests.

Chronic Q fever, characterized by infection that persists for more than 6 months, is uncommon but is a much more serious disease. Patients who have had acute Q fever may develop the chronic form as soon as one year, or as long as 20 years, after initial infection.

Most patients become ill within 2 to 3 weeks after exposure. Those who recover fully from infection may possess lifelong immunity against re-infection.


This page provides basic information only. It must not take the place of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to a health care professional about any health concerns.

Source:  Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Public Health Division.


For Further Information

Call the Infectious Disease Program: (807) 625-5900

or toll-free 1-888-294-6630

Health Topic
Diseases & Infections