Q fever is primarily spread by farm animals. While a number of animals are able to carry Q fever, it is most commonly seen in farm animals. Infected animals will pass the bacteria in urine, feces, milk, and birth products. People are typically exposed to Q fever when they inhale contaminated particles in the air or come into direct contact with contaminated materials.
Only about half of people infected with Q fever will have symptoms. These can be mild or severe and include fever, muscle aches, chills, headache, weakness, and cough. Children are likely to experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. In rare cases the infection can spread to other organs or the brain. A small percentage of people may develop a serious form of the disease, chronic Q fever, which can cause problems with the heart.
Treatment depends on severity. Antibiotics may be used to treat severe cases, but mild cases may resolve without treatment. Treatment for chronic Q fever may involve the use of multiple antibiotics, sometimes for several months. Surgery may be required if the infection spreads to and damages the heart.