Q fever is an infectious disease, caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii, which affects both animals and humans. It has been reported to be present in a wide range of species, including cattle, sheep and goats, as well as birds and arthropods in many areas of the world. It was first recognised as a disease that could be transmitted between animals and humans, that is a zoonotic disease, in abattoir workers affected by this illness in 1935 in Australia.
Infection with Coxiella burnetii rarely leads to the development of Q fever in animals. When it does occur, the disease may cause reproductive complications including miscarriages in particular in goats. In humans, Q fever may induce flu-like symptoms, including fever and headache, diarrhoea and vomiting. In some severe cases it can cause pneumonia and hepatitis. Chronic Q fever (characterised by an infection lasting more than 6 months) is an uncommon but much more serious disease.
Human infections mainly result from the inhalation of dust contaminated with bacteria from the placenta and birth fluids or faeces from infected animals. Other modes of transmission, such as through contaminated water or the faeces of infected arthropods are rare.
In December 2021 EFSA and ECDC published the latest annual EU One Health zoonosis report, which includes findings on Q fever for 2020.
EFSA’s role is to provide European risk managers with independent scientific advice and scientific assistance on the animal health dimensions of Q fever and any possible food safety issues. EFSA carries out its work in collaboration with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
EFSA monitors and analyses the situation on zoonoses, zoonotic micro-organisms, antimicrobial resistance, microbiological contaminants and food-borne outbreaks across Europe, including the prevalence of Q fever in animals and humans.
EFSA has issued advice on Q fever concluding that it has a limited impact on animal health and also on public health, although it can be significant for some risk groups. The assessment also looked into risk factors involved in the prevalence and spread of Q fever and possible control measures at the EU level. It suggests that a combination of measures could be used to control Q fever in the short and long-term with preventive vaccination of animals considered to be the most effective.
EFSA has also published a separate report which includes a proposal for a harmonised monitoring and reporting scheme for Q fever in animals in the EU Member States.
Directive 2009/99/EC on the monitoring of zoonotic agents requires EU Member States to monitor and report on cases of Q fever in animals warranted by the epidemiological situation. Furthermore, Commission Decision 2000/96/EC, as amended by Decision 2003/534/EC, lists Q fever in humans as a communicable disease to be monitored and controlled in the EU.