ISSN 2398-2993       Transformation '' not found.

Coxiella burnetii


Synonym(s): C. burnetii, Q fever, Coxiellosis




  • Family: Rickettsiaceae.
  • Genus: Coxiella.
  • Species: burnetii.


  • Research into identifying and characterizing Q fever, and its causative agent Coxiella burnetii, was performed independently by scientists in Australia and the USA in the 1930s.
  • Coxiella: named after Herald Rea Cox who, in collaboration with Gordon Davis at the Rocky Mountain Laboratory, USA, first isolated the causative agent of an undiagnosed febrile illness in guinea pigs.
  • Burnetii: named after Frank MacFarlane Burnet who first studied the properties of the organism following an outbreak of undiagnosed febrile illness in abattoir workers in Brisbane, Australia.

Active Forms

This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to obtain ten tokens to view any ten Vetlexicon articles, images, sounds or videos, or Login

Clinical Effects




  • The organism is disseminated hematogenously (through the blood). The female uterus and mammary glands are primary sites of chronic C. burnetii infection.
  • C. burnetii is able to cause a persistent and asymptomatic infection in cattle. C. burnetii resides and reproduces in the acidified phagolysosomes of host monocytes and macrophages, thus avoiding host animal defenses.
  • Endospore-like growth phase occurs: the "small-cell variant".


  • The organism is shed in milk, urine, feces and the products of abortion/parturition.
  • Shedding is often more pronounced around the time of abortion or parturition when recrudescence of latent infection can occur.
  • Q fever Q fever is an airborne disease and inhalation of infected aerosols and dust is the main route of infection of domestic ruminants. Cattle may also become infected through the ingestion of contaminated pasture or feed sources.
  • Is likely that C. burnetii contaminated manure plays a role on the maintenance of infection in animal populations.
  • Biting arthropods such as ticks Ticks: overview are also a potential transmission pathway for C. burnetii.
  • May be acquired from contaminated wool.
  • Occupational disease of farm workers, slaughterhouse workers and textile workers.

Pathological effects

  • Disease is usually asymptomatic in cattle.
  • Sporadic abortions Abortion and stillbirths: overview, infertility, mastitis Mastitis: approach to the cow with acute mastitis, weak calf syndrome Weak calf syndrome, still births, premature births and metritis have been associated with clinical disease.
  • Q fever Q fever is a zoonotic pathogen capable of causing a variety of disease manifestations in humans:
    • Many infected people (up to 60%) seroconvert but remain healthy.
    • The most common manifestation of illness is an acute, flu-like febrile illness.
    • Atypical pneumonia may be associated with fever, headache, and myalgia.
    • Chronic disease manifestations occur in only a small percentage of infected people.
    • Recurrent abortion occurs in infected women just as it does in infected animals.
    • Chronic fatigue syndrome has been associated with Q fever in humans.
    • Q fever is responsible for as many as 2-10% of endocarditis cases in humans.
    • A variety of other manifestations are reported in humans, including meningoencephalitis, headache, pericarditis, and pancreatitis.
    • Disease manifestations of chronic infection may occur months or even years after exposure to the organism.
  • Human exposure is related primarily to inhalation of aerosols. Because the organisms are extremely resistant in the environment, dust contaminated with body fluids (including amniotic fluid) or desiccated placenta from infected ruminants is a primary means of exposure. Humans can also be infected through consumption of infected milk or direct contact with infected tissues.
Aborted material should be bagged, sealed, and disposed of as biohazardous material.
  • Potentially contagious organisms may also be found in urine, feces, milk, or blood of infected animals.
  • Organisms in the environment are resistant to temperature, desiccation, ultraviolet light, and even many chemical disinfectants.
  • A 30 min exposure to 70% alcohol or 5% chloroform will destroy environmental sporulates.
  • Inactivated when held at 63°C/145.4°F for 30 min or 72°C/161.6°F for 15 sec.

Other Host Effects

  • Infection may be latent until the stress associated with parturition. Multiplication of the organism occurs in the birth tissue and products of parturition / abortion, urine and feces, resulting in environmental contamination.


  • There is no commercially available vaccination for cattle.

Other countermeasures

  • Eradication is difficult as reservoir hosts of disease include multiple domestic and wild animal species, birds and arthropods.


This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to obtain ten tokens to view any ten Vetlexicon articles, images, sounds or videos, or Login

Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Pexara A, Solomakos N & Govaris A (2018) Q fever and seroprevalence of Coxiella burnetii in domestic ruminants. Veterinaria Italiana 54 (4), 265-279 PubMed.
  • Ryan E D, Wrigley K, Hallinan A, McGrath G & Clegg T A (2018) Antibodies to Coxiella burnetii in Irish bulk tank milk samples. Vet Rec 182 (19) 550 PubMed.
  • Chisnall T L T (2017) Variance of Coxiella burnetii strains in bulk tank milk samples and associated Q fever exposure in veterinary undergraduates. Cattle Practice 25 (3), 167-168 PubMed.
  • Van Engelen E, Schotten N, Schimmer B et al (2014) Prevalence and risk factors for Coxiella burnetti (Q fever) in Dutch dairy cattle herds based on bulk milk testing. Preventative Vet Med (117), 102-109 PubMed.
  • Garcia-Ispierto I, utusaus T & Lo´pez-Gatius F (2014) Does Coxiella burnetii affect reproduction in cattle? A clinical update. Reprod Dom Anim (49), 529–535 PubMed.
  • Saegerman C, Speybroeck N, Dal Pozzo F & Czaplicki G (2012) Clinical indicators of exposure to Coxiella burnetii in dairy herds. Transboundary and Emerging Diseases (62) 46–5446 PubMed.
  • Valergakis G E, Russell C et al (2012) Coxiella burnetii in bulk tank milk of dairy cattle in south-west England. Vet Rec (171) 156 PubMed.
  • Alvarez A, Perez A, Mardones F O et al (2012) Epidemiological factors associated with the exposure of cattle to Coxiella burnetii in the Madrid region of Spain. Vet J (194) 102-1-7 PubMed.
  • Cooper A, Hedlefs R, McGowan M, Ketheesana N & Govana B (2011) Serological evidence of Coxiella burnetii infection in beef cattle in Queensland. Aust Vet J 7 (89), 260-264 PubMed.
  • Guatteo R, Seegers H, Frieda Taural A, Joly A & Beaudeau F (2011) Prevalence of Coxiella burnetii infection in domestic ruminants: A critical review. Vet Microbiol (149) 1-16 PubMed.
  • Pritchard G C, Smith R P, Errington J, Hannon S, Jones R M & Mearns R (2011) Prevalence of Coxiella burnetii in livestock abortion material using PCR. Vet Rec (169), 391 PubMed.
  • Ryan E D, Kirby M, Collins D M et al (2011) Prevalence of Coxiella burnetii (Q fever) antibodies in bovine serum and bulk-milk samples. Epidemiol Infect (139), 1413–1417 PubMed.

Other sources of information


  • European Food Standards Authority (2010) Scientific Opinion on Q fever1 EFSA Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW)2,3 EFSA Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) 2,3 (Chapter 4 on Food Safety). EFSA Journal 2010, 8 (5), 1595.

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

We have an ever growing content library on Vetlexicon so if you ever find we haven't covered something that you need please fill in the form below and let us know!


To show you are not a Bot please can you enter the number showing adjacent to this field

 Security code