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Q Fever

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Q Fever.

Q fever is a disease caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii.

The basics

What is Q fever?

It normally occurs in animals like sheep, cattle, and goats, but can spread to humans who have contact with infected animals.

How is Q fever spread?

It spreads through breathing in the bacteria shed by an infected animal. Rare modes of transmission include tick bites, eating unpasteurized milk or dairy products, and person to person transmission.


What are the symptoms of Q fever?

Symptoms of Q fever are similar to many other flu-like illnesses. They may include:

  • high fevers (up to 104-105° F)
  • severe headache
  • general malaise
  • myalgia
  • chills and/or sweats
  • non-productive cough
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • chest pain

Some people with Q fever infection experience serious illness such as:

  • pneumonia
  • granulomatous hepatitis
  • myocarditis
  • central nervous system complications

Infected pregnant women may be at risk for pre-term delivery or miscarriage.

How long does it take for symptoms to appear?

About one half of people infected with the bacteria develop symptoms. For those that do develop symptoms, it usually takes 2-3 weeks for them to appear. The amount of time it takes for symptoms to appear depends on the number of bacteria breathed in. The larger the amount inhaled, the quicker symptoms appear and the longer the illness lasts.  


How is Q fever treated?

Most people with Q fever recover without treatment. If treated with antibiotics within the first 3 days of the disease, fever will subside within 72 hours. People with suspected cases of Q fever need antibiotics to reduce the risk of complications. All cases of suspected Q fever in Massachusetts should be reported to local health departments.

Is there a vaccine for Q fever?

Yes. However, this vaccine is not commercially available in the United States. People with previous exposure to C. burnetii should not get the vaccine because severe reactions may occur.

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