Uncommon Investigations – Q fever

05 May 2023

SA Pathology performs over 15m tests a year from a catalogue of over 4,000 pathology tests.

With so many on offer, the variety and scope of testing is wide and far-reaching.

Let’s take a closer look at Coxiella burnetii - what it is and when you would test for current or past exposure to this interesting bacteria.

What is Coxiella burnetii?

Coxiella burnetii is a type of bacteria commonly known to cause Q fever.

It naturally infects animals such as goats, sheep and cattle and can be found in their birth products, urine, faeces, and milk.

Why test for Coxiella burnetii?

People who work closely with animals such as farmers and veterinarians are most at risk of contracting Q fever. Vaccination is highly recommended for those at risk of exposure as it is very effective in preventing infection.

Exposure is typically due to frequent and prolonged animal contact, particularly with animals who have recently given birth; however, the bacteria can also be carried in the wind; meaning even people who are not involved with animals can become infected.

Q fever testing needs to be done prior to vaccination for asymptomatic people at high risk of the disease. People found to have previously been exposed to Q fever do not need to be vaccinated as they have lifelong immunity.

A blood test can be requested for patients with recent animal exposure presenting to a doctor with a high fever and other symptoms listed below:

What are the symptoms?

Q Fever symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Chills or sweats
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
  • Muscle aches
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Weight loss
  • Non-productive cough

What does Q Fever do to the body?

If severe, the disease can cause pneumonia or hepatitis.

It can also put pregnant women at risk of miscarriage, still-birth, pre-term delivery or low infant birth weight.

Most people recover completely from Q fever within a week or two of infection, but approximately 10-15% of patients develop a long-lasting fatigue syndrome.

How is Q fever treated?

Q fever will often subside without treatment, however untreated patients are at increased risk of developing Q fever endocarditis or chronic Q fever. Anyone diagnosed with Q fever should be placed on antibiotics as soon as possible.

Acute Q fever infection is treated for 2 weeks with doxycycline. Patients who develop Q fever endocarditis or other endovascular infection require specialist management and often require combination antibiotic therapy for many months.


For detailed information about pathology tests and specific conditions visit pathologytestsexplained.org.au

Time for your next blood test? Find a collection centre closest to you.

To book a specialised test call us on 8222 3000.

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