Coxiella burnetii infections in sheep or goats: An opinionated review

R. Van den Brom*, E. van Engelen, H.I.J. Roest, W. van der Hoek, P. Vellema

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Q fever is an almost ubiquitous zoonosis caused by Coxiella burnetii, which is able to infect several animal species, as well as humans. Cattle, sheep and goats are the primary animal reservoirs. In small ruminants, infections are mostly without clinical symptoms, however, abortions and stillbirths can occur, mainly during late pregnancy. Shedding of C. burnetii occurs in feces, milk and, mostly, in placental membranes and birth fluids. During parturition of infected small ruminants, bacteria from birth products become aerosolized. Transmission to humans mainly happens through inhalation of contaminated aerosols. In the last decade, there have been several, sometimes large, human Q fever outbreaks related to sheep and goats. In this review, we describe C. burnetii infections in sheep and goats, including both advantages and disadvantages of available laboratory techniques, as pathology, different serological tests, PCR and culture to detect C. burnetii. Moreover, worldwide prevalences of C. burnetii in small ruminants are described, as well as possibilities for treatment and prevention. Prevention of shedding and subsequent environmental contamination by vaccination of sheep and goats with a phase I vaccine are possible. In addition, compulsory surveillance of C. burnetii in small ruminant farms raises awareness and hygiene measures in farms help to decrease exposure of people to the organism. Finally, this review challenges how to contain an infection of C. burnetii in small ruminants, bearing in mind possible consequences for the human population and probable interference of veterinary strategies, human risk perception and political considerations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-129
JournalVeterinary Microbiology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2015


  • Coxiella burnetii
  • Goat
  • Q fever
  • Sheep
  • Zoonosis

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