Q Fever: Single-Point Source Outbreak With High Attack Rates and Massive Numbers of Undetected Infections Across an Entire Region

Volker H. Hackert*, Wim van der Hoek, Nicole H.T.M. Dukers-Muijrers, Arnout de Bruin, Sascha Al Dahouk, Heinrich Neubauer, Cathrien A. Bruggeman, Christian J. P. A. Hoebe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background. In early 2009, a dairy-goat annex care farm in South Limburg, the Netherlands, reported 220 Coxiella burnetii-related abortions in 450 pregnant goats. These preceded human cases and occurred in a region that was Q-fever free before 2009, providing a unique quasi-experimental setting for investigating regional transmission patterns associated with a Q-fever point source. Methods. Index-farm residents/employees, visitors, and their household contacts were traced and screened for C. burnetii. Distribution of community cases was analysed using a geographic information system. True incidence, including undetected infections, was estimated regionwide by seroprevalence in a pre-versus postoutbreak sample, and near-farm by immunoglobulin M seroprevalence in a municipal population sample. Environmental bacterial load was repeatedly measured in surface and aerosol samples. Results. Serological attack rate was 92% (24/26) in index-farm residents/employees, 56% (28/50) in visitors, and 50% (7/14) in household contacts, and the clinical attack rate (ie, the proportion of persons seropositive for acute infection who also had clinical illness) was >= 80%. Notified symptomatic community cases (n = 253) were scattered downwind from the index farm, following a significant exposure-response gradient. Observed incidence ranged from 6.3% (0-1 km) to 0.1% (4-5 km), and remained high beyond. True incidence of infections was estimated at 2.9% regionwide, extrapolating to 8941 infections; estimated near-farm incidence was 12%. Coxiella burnetii load was high on-farm (2009), and lower off-farm (2009-2010). Conclusions. Linking a single dairy-goat farm to a human Q-fever cluster, we show widespread transmission, massive numbers of undetected infections, and high attack rates on-and off-farm, even beyond a 5-km high-risk zone. Our investigation may serve as an essential case study for risk assessment in public health and related fields such as bioterrorism response and preparedness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1591-1599
JournalClinical Infectious Diseases
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2012

Cite this