Coxiella burnetii infection (Q fever):

Coxiella burnetii infection (Q fever) 

Q fever, also called query fever, is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii. The bacteria are most commonly found in cattle, sheep, and goats around the world. Humans typically get Q fever when they breathe in dust that was contaminated by infected animals.

Farmers, veterinarians, and people who work with these animals in labs are at the highest risk of being infected. The highest amounts of bacteria are found in the “birth products” (placenta, amniotic fluid, etc.) of infected animals.

The disease may cause mild symptoms similar to the flu. Many people have no symptoms at all. Mild forms of the disease may clear up in a few weeks without any treatment.

In rare cases, a more serious form of disease develops if the infection is chronic, which means it persists for 6 months (and there are some case reports indicating that it may persist for more than 6 months).

A more serious form also can develop if the infection is recurrent, which means it comes back. People with heart valve problems or weak immune systems are at the highest risk of developing these types of Q fever.

Chronic Q fever is very serious because it can damage a person’s vital organs, including the:

  • heart
  • liver
  • brain
  • lungs

More severe or chronic forms of Q fever can be treated with antibiotics. Those at risk for Q fever can prevent the disease by disinfecting contaminated areas and washing their hands thoroughly.


Q fever is a disease caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii. This bacteria naturally infects some animals, such as goats, sheep, and cattle. C. burnetii bacteria are found in the birth products (i.e. placenta, amniotic fluid), urine, feces, and milk of infected animals.


Initial (acute) symptoms of Q fever are flu-like and start three to 30 days after exposure. Some people continue to have symptoms for over a year after their initial exposure, called Q fever fatigue syndrome (QFS). Others develop symptoms of a more serious infection called chronic Q fever.

Symptoms of acute Q fever

Symptoms of acute Q fever are usually flu-like but can vary a lot. It might cause pneumonia, inflammation of your brain or its covering (encephalitis or meningitis) or inflammation in your liver (hepatitis). Symptoms you might experience include:

  • Fever.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Chills.
  • Sweats.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia).
  • Severe headaches.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Cough.
  • Chest pain.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Rash-like spots under your skin (purpura).
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea).

Symptoms of Q fever fatigue syndrome (QFS)

About 20% of people with Q fever will have fatigue and other symptoms that continue for months or years after initial exposure. Symptoms of Q fever fatigue syndrome include:

  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Headaches.
  • Sweats.
  • Joint pain.
  • Muscle aches.

Symptoms of chronic Q fever (persistent Q fever)

Chronic Q fever starts months to years after your initial C. burnetii infection, even if you didn’t have symptoms at the time. While it most commonly affects your heart, heart valves and blood vessels, the symptoms can vary depending on what parts of your body are affected.

Symptoms of chronic Q fever include:

  • Low-grade fever.
  • Night sweats.
  • Weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Swelling of your legs or feet.


The symptoms of Q fever are similar to many other diseases, often making diagnosis difficult. See your healthcare provider if you develop symptoms after spending time with or near animals particularly sheep, goats, and cattle—or in areas where these animals may have been.

Your healthcare provider may order blood tests to look for Q fever or for other diseases.

Note: Rate under the appropriate body system any residual disability of infection, which includes, but is not limited to, chronic hepatitis, endocarditis, osteomyelitis, post Q-fever chronic fatigue syndrome, or vascular infections.

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