A Michigan woman endured prolonged hospitalization for Q-fever meningitis and two other women were also diagnosed with bacterial Q-fever infections after they drank unpasteurized milk from a farm in Livingston County, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
All three women, in their 30s and 40s, acknowledged obtaining raw milk from the farm as part of a herd share arrangement, according to a report in the Kalamazoo Gazette.
As a result of the three cases of Q fever, the Michigan health department of this week issued a warning about the dangers of consuming unpasteurized milk. Herd share schemes, in which participants pay for a share in a cow or goat in return for unpasteurized milk, are “not inspected or regulated under Michigan’s dairy laws,” the statement noted. Raw milk products are not permitted to be sold at retail in Michigan.
Q-fever is a communicable disease caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnettii, an organism common in farm animals. But while such bacterial infections are common among cow, goat and sheep herds — one national study estimated that at times 90 percent of dairy herds can carry the germs — human cases of Q fever are rare.
Infected animals shed the organism in their manure, urine and milk and people can become infected when they drink milk that has not been heat-treated to kill such pathogens or breathe contaminated barnyard dust.
Health departments in Washington and Montana are investigating human cases of Q fever said to be linked not to raw milk but to inhalation of barnyard dust particles contaminated by infected goats, according to a report in the Spokesman-Review.
The illness has sickened six people in Washington’s Grant County, where health department officials say there hasn’t been a human case of Q fever for 25 years. The problem began at a farm that breeds and sells goats, according to the state Department of Agriculture, and infected goats from that farm have now been traced to nine other counties.
Q fever is also the probable cause of six illnesses in Montana. The Montana goats believed responsible for that outbreak are linked to the Washington herd, an agriculture department spokesman said.
Although the infected goats were not milking goats, but were being raised for show and possibly for meat, Washington agriculture officials said that as a precaution they have increased testing at farms that handle and bottle unpasteurized goat milk.
Jason Kelly, communications director for the state’s Department of Agriculture, said Washington requires annual herd-health testing for raw milk dairies and for animals that are about to join a milking herd. The tests have turned up Q fever before, “which is not surprising given the bacteria’s high prevalence in cows, goats and sheep,” Kelly said in an email. Animals that test positive must be treated before they are allowed to be milked, he added.
Only about one half of all people infected with Q fever show immediate signs of illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of Q fever, which is a reportable disease, include high fevers (up to 105-105 F), severe headache, joint and body aches, fatigue, chills/sweats, non-productive cough, chest pain, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Although most people with Q fever recover, complications can include pneumonia, hepatitis, inflammation of the heart tissue and central nervous system. Pregnant woman may be at risk for miscarriage.
Left untreated, Q fever can lead to chronic illness that can affect a person’s heart, liver, brain and lungs and may be fatal.
Less than 5 percent of patients develop chronic Q fever, which can occur within six weeks after infection or even years later. A post-Q fever fatigue syndrome has been reported to occur in 10 to 25 percent of patients.