Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Vet and farmer tending to an animal.

Vet and farmer tending to an animal.
beginning of content

Q fever

3-minute read

Q fever is an infection caused by a type of bacteria, which usually spreads to people from animals or their infected surroundings. Vaccination is advised for people at high risk such as those who work with animals.

What is Q fever?

Q fever is an infection. For most people, it’s a mild infection similar to the flu and can be treated easily.

But for a few people, it can lead to serious health issues such as pneumonia and hepatitis.

A few people develop chronic Q fever, which can resurface months or years later and can cause serious problems such as damage to the heart and other organs. It can also cause serious problems for pregnant women.

What causes Q fever?

Q fever is caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii, which is mostly found in farm animals such as:

  • cattle
  • sheep
  • goats

But it may also be found in other animals such as:

  • dogs
  • cats
  • kangaroos

Animals with Q fever don’t usually look sick but they can spread the bacteria to people.

How is Q fever passed onto humans?

Anyone who works with animals, such as meat workers, shearers, farmers and vets, has a higher than normal risk of getting infected. People usually get Q fever from breathing in infected air particles carrying dried up animal matter such as:

  • milk
  • urine
  • faeces (poo)
  • placenta

Clothing, wool, hides and straw can also carry the bacteria. Infection rarely spreads from person to person. Drinking unpasteurised (unsterilised) milk may also be a risk - pasteurisation is a process that kills bacteria.

Q fever diagnosis

If your doctor suspects you have Q fever, they may ask you to have a number of blood tests to confirm their diagnosis.

Q fever symptoms

Only about half of the people with Q fever have symptoms. These usually start within 2 to 3 weeks of getting infected and last from 4 days to 6 weeks. The symptoms are like having the flu such as:

Long lasting fatigue can follow infection with Q fever.

Q fever treatment

Q fever is commonly treated with antibiotics and people with mild infections recover quickly. If you have chronic Q fever, you will need to take antibiotics for up to 18 months.

Q fever prevention

If you are at high risk of getting infected, and you are over 15 years, you can be given a Q fever vaccine to prevent infection. Do not drink unpasteurised milk, as this may cause infection.

If you’re concerned that you’re at risk or if you have Q fever symptoms, see your doctor.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Q Fever

Q Fever is an illness caused by bacteria called Coxiella burnetii. The main carriers of the disease are farm animals such as cattle, sheep and goats

Read more on Queensland Health website

Q fever - NT.GOV.AU

How it's spread, incubation, symptoms, treatment and prevention of Q fever.

Read more on NT Health website

Q fever | National Centre for Farmer Health

Q fever is an infection that produces flu-like symptoms in humans but shows little or no symptoms in animals. Read more...

Read more on National Centre for Farmer Health website

Q fever fact sheet - Fact sheets

Q fever is a bacterial infection that can cause a severe flu-like illness. For some people, Q fever can affect their health and ability to work for many years. The bacteria are spread from animals, mainly cattle, sheep and goats.

Read more on NSW Health website

Q fever - Lab Tests Online AU

This illness was named “Q (for query) fever” in 1937 when the first cases of the disease were reported but very little was known about it. Since then, the cause and routes of the disease have been discovered but the name has been retained.

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Q fever - Better Health Channel

Q fever is caused by a micro-organism that can be carried by cattle, sheep and goats.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Bacterial infections - NT.GOV.AU

Read more on NT Health website

Eggs - Better Health Channel

The humble egg is a powerhouse of nutritional goodness. Eggs are full of things your body needs. They are a great source of protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, folic acid and iron). In fact, eggs are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Egg allergy - Better Health Channel

Egg allergy is one of the most common causes of allergies in children with symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening reactions

Read more on Better Health Channel website

List of notifiable conditions | Queensland Health

This list of conditions is from The Public Health Regulation 2018 (Schedule 1) and provides a quick reference for the kind of notification required for each condition

Read more on Queensland Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo