Diseases : 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.


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, muscle soreness, confusion, sore throat, chills, sweats, non-productive cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and chest pain. Fever usually lasts for one to two weeks. Weight loss can occur and persist 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 six 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 two to three weeks after exposure. Those who recover fully from infection may possess lifelong immunity against re-infection.


Antibiotics will be provided by your physician for treatment.

Further Information

Anyone with concerns or questions about Q fever : please contact your physician or the staff of your local public health unit.


The information provided is subject to change. The information was collated from the following three sources :

1. Chin, J. "Control of Communicable Diseases Manual". 17th Edition. 2000. American Public Health Association: Washington D.C.
2. Health Canada website
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website

*Advice on the most up-to-date treatment should be sought from a clinical expert.

January 2003

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