Back From the Vet: Q Fever in Goats

My Goats Can Give Me What? 

Back From the Vet: Q Fever in Goats

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Q Fever refers to the infection of people with the bacteria Coxiella burnetii. So how is it that people contract this infection? To understand that, one must understand Coxiella.

Coxiella burnetii is, as stated before, a bacteria. It has a worldwide distribution (aside from New Zealand) and is found in both wild and domesticated mammals, birds, and arthropods. It can be spread from animal to animal via ticks and other arthropods. It is also secreted in the bodily fluids of infected animals. In can be found in any area with ruminant livestock. When Coxiella is secreted in bodily fluids, it is excreted in a form that can survive for extended periods in the environment despite drying and the application of disinfectants.

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In goats and sheep, it can cause subclinical infections, or infections that are not readily visible, as well as anorexia and late-term abortions. Infected animals shed large amounts of the bacteria at birthing. The bacteria are found in the placenta, as well as milk, urine, and feces.

So how do people get a Coxiella infection? When Coxiella is shed, it can survive in the environment for a long time. People can be infected from as little as the inhalation of one single organism. While inhalation is the main method of transmission, contact and the ingestion of contaminated dairy products are other possible means of transmission. Given the main hosts of Coxiella, it follows that those who work closely with ruminant livestock are most likely to become infected. Humans infected with Coxiella can exhibit flu-like symptoms, as well as hepatitis, endocarditis, and abortion. Individuals who are immune compromised, such as pregnant women, are especially susceptible.

So what can you do to decrease the risk?

If your goats are experiencing late-term abortions, you should work closely with your veterinarian to determine the cause. Your veterinarian will likely recommend sending an aborted fetus and placenta to a reputable lab for testing.

When kidding your goats, care should be taken to practice good hygiene. Pens should be cleaned thoroughly and bedding for animals should not be re-used.

Goats should also be treated with insecticides to prevent tick infestations.

Originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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