The bacteria that causes Q fever is considered endemic in sheep and goat populations. The Montana Department of Livestock, in conjunction with the state Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS), USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is investigating an outbreak of Q fever in the state. The investigation is part of a multi-state outbreak of illnesses in humans and animals associated with goats from Washington.
At least three known premises in the state have received goats from a positive herd in Washington. Two of those premises, in Cascade and Teton counties, have had illnesses in humans and animals determined to be Q fever, while a third, located in Yellowstone County, is currently being tested by MDOL and USDA-AHIS.
A zoonotic disease – one that can be passed from animals to humans – Q fever is caused by a specific type of bacteria carried by animals, most commonly sheep, goats and cattle. Infected animals shed the bacteria during birthing, and in feces, urine and milk. Humans can become infected by breathing barnyard dust particles contaminated by the bacteria or by ingesting the bacteria.
Q fever can cause acute or chronic illness in humans, who usually acquire infection after contact with infected animals or exposure to contaminated environments. Most of those infected will show no symptoms; those with symptoms may have headaches, fevers, muscle aches and a variety of mild, flu-like symptoms. While most persons with acute Q fever infection recover without treatment, others may experience complications including pneumonia and liver and heart problems. Those most vulnerable include pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. Treatment with antibiotics shortens the course of illness for acute Q fever and can prevent long-term complications.
In animals, particularly sheep and goats, the illness can cause stillbirths and abortions, but generally goes undetected because animals exhibit no symptoms.
The bacteria that causes Q fever is common, and is considered endemic in sheep and goat populations.
Local and state officials are using this opportunity to educate livestock owners about the risks of Q fever, particularly the need to properly dispose of birth products and aborted fetuses at facilities housing sheep and goats. In addition, restricting access to areas housing potentially infected animals is recommended.
For additional information, please direct livestock related questions to Steve Merritt, public information officer, Montana Department of Livestock (406/444-9431), or human health related questions to Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (406/444-4391).
Read an article with more detail in the Choteau Acantha newspaper here.