Q fever is a rickettsial illness caused by Coxiella burnetii.
Rickettsia are organisms that have characteristics of both bacteria and
viruses. Found worldwide, infection from the pathogen is usually
inapparent in animals. It causes abortions in sheep, goats and cattle, as
well as an influenza type illness in humans. Dogs and cats are also
susceptible. Sub-clinical infections also occur in wild animals, which
constitute one of the known reservoirs, with transmittal by ticks. The
other reservoir is ruminant animals, with transmittal through milk,
placentas and postpartum discharges. Infection in humans can be caused
also by inhalation of dust particles containing the pathogen and by
handling infected animals and their carcasses or hides.
Coxiella burnetii has been designated as a potential pathogen for
use in biological weapons.