Chilean authorities are seeking international advice after dozens of people in the southern part of the country contracted the infection, Q fever, according to a Cooperativa report (computer translated).

Undersecretary of Health, Jaime Burrows, explained that the 43 patients are inhabitants of the region of Los Lagos and Los Ríos, in southern Chile, and twenty of them were hospitalized. It should be noted that the majority of the cases are workers in the dairy industry.

Chile map/CIA
Chile map/CIA

Because this is the first time that an outbreak of this magnitude has occurred in Chile, the Ministry of Health requested collaboration from Australian experts to investigate the cases.

Burrows said that “work is being done to control the outbreak” and detailed that patients are receiving antibiotic treatment.

“Unfortunately about 10 percent tends to chronic and we are evaluating the protocols for long-term follow-up,” he added.

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 these animals 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 by pneumonia 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 but may cause life-threatening heart valve disease (endocarditis).

By the way, the “Q” in Q fever stands for “query,” not for Queensland, where the disease was first described in 1935.