Case of Q fever prompts military to issue advisory

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Recently, a member of the U.S. military community in Germany was diagnosed with Q fever, prompting Army health officials to issue a health advisory.

“An advisory is precautionary in nature,” said Lt. Col. Kathy Ellis, chief epidemiologist for the Public Health Command Region – Europe. “There was an isolated case within the U.S. military community, and we simply want people to learn more about the disease.”

Q fever is a worldwide disease caused by the bacteria, Coxiella burnetii. Sheep, goats, and cattle are the most frequent sources of human infection, but wild animals such as rodents and rabbits can also spread the disease.

According to the Global infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Network, Q fever was first recognized in Germany in 1947. Worldwide, forty outbreaks were reported from 1947 to 1999. Sheep were implicated in 24 of the outbreaks, and cattle in 6. The incidence of Q fever in Germany has been rising since the 1990’s with the German state of Hesse (Wiesbaden area) experiencing the greatest increase.

Infection of humans usually occurs by inhalation of these organisms from contaminated aerosols.  While workers at slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are at greatest risk, some Soldiers returning from Iraq have also been diagnosed, she said. In rare instances, human to human transmission can occur.
In the advisory, officials note the most common symptoms among U.S. military personnel deployed to Iraq have been fever, headache, chills, malaise (generalized feeling of discomfort, illness, or lack of well-being), fatigue, and nausea. Other reported symptoms include a dry cough, muscle aches, vomiting, sweats, diarrhea, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

The disease is treatable, and early diagnosis can minimize the risk of  more severe complications. Diagnosis is made by a blood test. It usually requires a blood test at the onset of symptoms and again upon recovery.

If you have questions or concerns regarding Q fever, direct them to your health care provider.

(Courtesy of ERMC Public Affairs)