What is Q Fever?

We interrupt the broadcast of the #week allergy  with its wonderful antihistamines that do not make you sleepy , to explain what Q Fever is. Why? Because this week the appearance of an outbreak of this disease in eight workers from a landfill in Bilbao is news. Only the name of the disease, Q fever , is dangerously reminiscent of Influenza A and makes some of the quivers tremble. Not surprisingly, it can become deadly. Next we will talk about Q fever and at the end of the post we will return to the Basque question to understand what has happened there (and what is about to happen).


What is Q Fever?

The  Q corresponds to the initial of the English word «query» (question, question mark) since for some time, back in the 1930s, microbiologists had a little trouble finding the bad bug. It is a zoonosis, that is, an infectious disease transmitted by animals, caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii. Previously it was known as «Slaughterhouse Fever».

The favorite animals of Coxiella burnetii are cows, sheep and goats, without forgetting that it also has a certain tendency to tour puppies and kittens using ticks as a means of transport. Nor does he despise gliding in various birds. In short, Coxiella does hair and feather.

How is it transmitted?

The key to contagion lies in delivery since the bacteria are found in the uterus and mammary glands of cattle: during pregnancy the infection is activated and in the remains of the delivery (placenta, amniotic fluid) the concentration of Coxiella is high. The infection occurs through different routes:

– Inhalation: it is the most frequent. Either through aerosols at the time of delivery or from bacteria that fall to the ground and that with the wind can travel even kilometers in the form of spores. Due to its capacity for aerogenic diffusion and resistance in hostile media,  Coxiella is considered a potential bioterrorist weapon (the EU does not take its eye off it).

– Consumption of contaminated raw milk.

– Direct contact with infected elements (they said something about Fever of the Slaughterhouses) and, to a lesser extent, by a tick bite.

What symptoms does it produce?

They can be very diverse within a range of symptoms ranging from unnoticed (it is estimated that this can occur in up to 60% of cases), mild and nonspecific symptoms ( fever, malaise, weakness),  more severe symptoms such as hepatitis and pneumonia, up to very serious and life-threatening symptoms such as endocarditis.

Do you have treatment?

Yes, Doxycycline helps kill bugs, but to kill them dead, a good response from the immune system by the patient is necessary. Failure to do so can lead to chronic infection with endocarditis that can result in death.

Can we prevent it?

There is a vaccine (although this point can be improved) that could be useful for prophylaxis in ranchers, veterinarians or butchers, among others. However, the best prevention is achieved by avoiding the consumption of unpasteurized milk and, fundamentally, by keeping hygienic measures at bay (disinfection, deworming, correct waste disposal) both in livestock farms and in other leisure facilities, of the zoo type or school farm. If this is not true, allowing something as tender and bucolic as an unimmunized urban boy to attend the birth of a lamb, and swarm around the stables, may be foolhardy.

The Basque question

In the Basque Country, the farrowing takes place in the winter months and early spring, that is, right now. With the high number of deliveries and abortions, more aerosols are generated due to the contaminated placentas that see the light . Depending on the wind and the distance from farms to the city, we are not only talking about direct contagion, but outbreaks can also appear in urban areas.

In this case, what has happened is that some animal waste (skins and heads of goats and sheep) have been mixed with urban waste, and have entered the Biological Mechanical Treatment plant, infecting 8 of its workers (there are another 25 to lack of confirmation). In addition, a second infectious focus has been detected in the town of Berriatua, which has affected a dozen people. Let’s say it’s a “book” case caused by a kaffir – I can’t think of a better word – who decided to mix the residues of a livestock farm with the municipal garbage.

Hopefully, those responsible will be found, professionals will be aware of (and demand) and few more times will we have to worry about what Q fever is .


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