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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2009 Jan;75(2):428-33. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00690-08. Epub 2008 Nov 14.

Coxiella burnetii shedding routes and antibody response after outbreaks of Q fever-induced abortion in dairy goat herds.

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  • 1Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments (French Food Safety Agency) (AFSSA), Unité Pathologie des Ruminants (Laboratory of Pathologies in Ruminants), Sophia Antipolis, France.


Q fever is a zoonosis caused by Coxiella burnetii, a bacterium largely carried by ruminants and shed into milk, vaginal mucus, and feces. The main potential hazard to humans and animals is due to shedding of bacteria that can then persist in the environment and be aerosolized. The purpose of this study was to evaluate shedding after an outbreak of Q fever abortion in goat herds and to assess the relationship with the occurrence of abortions and antibody responses. Aborting and nonaborting goats were monitored by PCR for C. burnetii shedding 15 and 30 days after the abortion episodes. PCR analysis of all samples showed that 70% (n = 50) of the aborting and 53% (n = 70) of the nonaborting goats were positive. C. burnetii was shed into vaginal mucus, feces, and milk of 44%, 21%, and 38%, respectively, of goats that aborted and 27%, 20%, and 31%, respectively, of goats that delivered normally. Statistical comparison of these shedding results did not reveal any difference between these two groups. PCR results obtained for the vaginal and fecal routes were concordant in 81% of cases, whereas those for milk correlated with only 49% of cases with either vaginal or fecal shedding status. Serological analysis, using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA), and complement fixation tests, showed that at least 24% of the seronegative goats shed bacteria. Positive vaginal and fecal shedding, unlike positive milk shedding, was observed more often in animals that were weakly positive or negative by ELISA or IFA. Two opposite shedding trends were thus apparent for the milk and vaginal-fecal routes. Moreover, this study showed that a nonnegligible proportion of seronegative animals that delivered normally could excrete C. burnetii.

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