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Coxiella Burnetii

Coxiella Burnetii



NAME: Coxiella burnetii

SYNONYM OR CROSS REFERENCE: Q fever, Query fever, Rickettsia

CHARACTERISTICS: Pleomorphic, gram-negative, intracellular, bacteria-like organism


PATHOGENICITY: Acute febrile disease; sudden onset, chills, headache, weakness, malaise, severe sweats; pneumonitis, pericarditis, hepatitis, generalized infections; chronic infection mainly involves endocarditis; up to half of infections are asymptomatic; < l% case fatality rate, self-limiting infection

EPIDEMIOLOGY: Worldwide; incidence is probably greater than reported; endemic in many areas; explosive epidemics occurred in stockyards, meat packing plants and medical labs using sheep for research; common cases in researchers and visitors

HOST RANGE: Humans, cattle, sheep, goats

INFECTIOUS DOSE: 10 organisms by inhalation route

MODE OF TRANSMISSION: Commonly by airborne dissemination of rickettsiae in dust from contaminated premises; airborne organisms may be carried>1/2 mile downwind; by direct contact with infected animals and their birth products (especially sheep), wool from sheep, straw, fertilizer and laundry of exposed persons; raw milk from infected cows has been responsible in some cases

INCUBATION PERIOD: Depends on size of the infectious dose; usually 2-3 weeks

COMMUNICABILITY: Direct transmission from person to person is very rare, but may occur in cases of pneumonia


RESERVOIR: Sheep, cattle, goats, ticks, some wild animals (bandicoots); infected domestic animals are usually asymptomatic but shed massive numbers of organisms at parturition

ZOONOSIS: Yes – direct contact with infected animals (particularly placenta and placental fluids); inhalation of aerosols from infected animals, bedding, dust, etc.

VECTORS: Ticks – several species (transmit C. burnetii to domestic animals but not to humans)


DRUG SUSCEPTIBILITY: Resistant to many antibiotics; tetracycline, chloramphenicol and rifampin may be effective

SUSCEPTIBILITY TO DISINFECTANTS: Resistance to disinfectants documented; reported susceptibility to sodium hypochlorite, formalin, phenols varies; susceptible to ethanol, glutaraldehyde and gaseous formaldehyde (humidity control is essential)

PHYSICAL INACTIVATION: Resists elevated temperatures, dessication, osmotic shock, UV; inactivated by ether, chloroform, gamma irradiation, 130°C for 60 min.

SURVIVAL OUTSIDE HOST: Extremely resistant to drying and is stable under a variety of environmental conditions; survives for months and even years in the environment; dried sputum – 30 days; dust – up to 120 days; dried urine of guinea pig – 49 days; feces of tick 586 days; milk – 42 months at 4-6°C; wool 12-16 months at 4-6°C


SURVEILLANCE: Monitor for symptoms of infection: confirm by serological testing

FIRST AID/TREATMENT: Antibiotic therapy

IMMUNIZATION: Investigational new Phase I Q fever vaccine (IND) available from USAMRIID; recommended for those at high risk (work with live C. burnetii and sheep) of exposure who have no demonstrated sensitivity to Q fever antigen; Australian vaccine also found to be effective

PROPHYLAXIS: Antibiotic prophylaxis not shown to be effective


LABORATORY-ACQUIRED INFECTIONS: Second most commonly reported laboratory infection with outbreaks involving 15 or more persons recorded in several institutions; 278 reported cases with 1death

SOURCES/SPECIMENS: A wide range of domestic and wild mammals are natural hosts and may serve as potential source of infection to laboratory and animal care personnel; infected arthropods; blood, urine, feces, milk, and tissues of infected animal or human hosts; placenta of infected sheep may contain millions of organisms/gram tissue; milk may contain 100,000 organisms/gram

PRIMARY HAZARDS: Parenteral inoculation; exposure to infectious aerosols and droplets

SPECIAL HAZARDS: Exposure to naturally infected and often asymptomatic sheep and to their birth products is a documented hazard to personnel


CONTAINMENT REQUIREMENTS: Biosafety level 2 practices and containment for nonpropagative laboratory procedures, including serological examinations and staining of impression smears; biosafety level 3 practices and facilities for activities involving the inoculation, incubation, and harvesting of embryonated eggs or tissue cultures, the necropsy of infected animals and the manipulation of infected tissues

PROTECTIVE CLOTHING: Laboratory coat; gloves and gown (tight wrists and fastened in back) when working with the agent; masks may also be used

OTHER PRECAUTIONS: Since infected guinea pigs and other rodents may shed the organisms in urine or feces, experimentally infected rodents should be maintained under Animal Biosafety Level 3


SPILLS: Allow aerosols to settle; wear protective clothing; gently cover spill with paper towels and apply 1% sodium hypochlorite, starting at perimeter and working towards the centre; allow sufficient contact time (30-60 min) before clean up

DISPOSAL: Decontaminate all wastes before disposal: incineration (animal wastes), steam sterilization

STORAGE: In sealed containers that are appropriately labelled


Date prepared: January 2000

Prepared by: Office of Laboratory Security, PHAC

Although the information, opinions and recommendations contained in this Material Safety Data Sheet are compiled from sources believed to be reliable, we accept no responsibility for the accuracy, sufficiency, or reliability or for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information. Newly discovered hazards are frequent and this information may not be completely up to date.

Copyright © Health Canada, 2001

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