Why Goat Producers Should be Concerned about Q Fever

By Darlene Baker

In February 2012, Tom Boyer, then President of the Board of the American Goat Federation (AGF) participated in meetings as a member of the working group on Q Fever. This group is comprised of three state public health or state veterinarians, two academic Coxiella researchers, one USDA small ruminant epidemiologist, and one Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Coxiella specialist who is also a veterinarian, along with three industry representatives; one from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, one from the ASI and one from the AGF. Dr. Ann Garvey, the Iowa State Public Health Veterinarian, is coordinating the group.

Q Fever is caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii. It is a disease of worldwide proportions affecting both humans and livestock. It first made national news when the Netherlands experienced a large outbreak of Q Fever, which resulted in thousands of people being infected and a dozen or so fatalities in 2007. There were as many as 50,000 goats and a smaller number of sheep slaughtered in reaction to this outbreak. For the most part, Q Fever’s effect on humans is minor, generally causing fatigue and flu-like systems, and can be treated with antibiotics. The disease can be transmitted to the general public through infected raw milk; however, pasteurized milk and milk products are safe to use. It is believed that the biggest risk comes from breathing the bacterium when cleaning barns or livestock birthing areas, particularly those of cattle, sheep and goats.

According to the CDC, Q Fever causes abortions in goats and sheep, and to a lesser degree in cattle. Animals acquire Q Fever through contact with reproductive fluids and milk from infected animals. Medical health professionals are concerned because in areas where infected animals are present, veterinarians, meatpacking workers and farmers are at risk for contracting Q fever. Humans are very susceptible to the disease and are easily infected through contact and even inhalation, when they are exposed to birthing fluids and material from infected animals. Because the bacterium is extremely hardy and resistant to heat, drying and many common disinfectants, it can survive for long periods of time in barns and corrals. The human incidence of this disease and the growing indication that it has long term effects is the reason for the involvement of the CDC in this working group. The American Goat Federation was invited to participate as the representative of the goat industry because goat producers, from all segments of the industry are and can be affected by this disease.

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