Six medical tourists, five from New York and one from Canada, contracted the bacterial infection, Q fever, last year after receiving a “live cell therapy treatment” in Germany, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report to be published Friday.
During September–November 2014, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) was notified of five New York state residents who had tested seropositive for Coxiella burnetii, the causative agent of Q fever.
According to the federal health agency, Live cell therapy is the practice of injecting processed cells from organs or fetuses of nonhuman animals (e.g., sheep) into human recipients. It is advertised to treat a variety of health conditions including being an anti-aging therapy.
The treatment known as live cell therapy was developed in Switzerland during the 1930s by Paul Niehans. Practitioners have used organs, glands, and fetuses of multiple species, including sheep, cows, and sharks.
This practice is unavailable in the United States; however, persons can travel to foreign locations to receive injections.
About one week after receiving the injections, the patients developed symptoms of Q fever.
Two patients reported that a group had traveled to Germany for injections twice each year for the past 5 years. They chose to receive injections of fetal sheep cells to improve their general health and vitality, and had not previously experienced signs or symptoms of illness after injections.
Q fever is caused by the obligate intracellular pathogen, Coxiella burnetii. The disease is usually transmitted to people through either infected milk or through aerosols.
This disease is found on most continents with the reported incidence probably much lower than the actual because so many cases are so mild.
Animal reservoirs of C. burnetii include sheep, cattle, goats, dogs and cats. In areas where theseanimals are present, Q fever affects veterinarians, meatpacking workers, and farmers.
Q fever is also considered a potential agent of bioterrorism.
The symptoms of Q fever according to the CDC are an unexplained febrile illness, sometimes accompanied bypneumonia and/or hepatitis is the most common clinical presentation. Illness onset typically occurs within 2–3 weeks after exposure.
The mortality rate for acute Q fever is low (1–2%), and the majority of persons with mild illness recover spontaneously within a few weeks although antibiotic treatment will shorten the duration of illness and lessen the risk of complications. Chronic Q fever is uncommon (<1% of acutely infected patients) but may cause life-threatening heart valve disease (endocarditis).
Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch
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