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Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2002 Jan;21(1):17-21.

Investigation of a slaughterhouse-related outbreak of Q fever in the French Alps.

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Regional Centre for Disease Control of South-Eastern France, Marseilles.


The aim of the study presented here was to describe the different epidemiological methods used to investigate an outbreak of Q fever that occurred in the spring of 1996 among inhabitants of Briançon, a small town in the French Alps. Three approaches were used: (i) a comparison between a 2-month exhaustive serological survey among blood donors and a retrospective serological survey performed on frozen plasma collected by the transfusion centre in the spring of 1995; (ii) a serological survey performed in the general population by cluster sampling, using dried blood on blotting paper; and (iii) a case-control study. A total of 29 cases of acute Q fever were diagnosed by physicians during hospitalisations of the patients or ambulatory care. The case-con-trol study suggested that the outbreak resulted from airborne transmission of contaminated sheep waste, which had been left uncovered in the slaughterhouse area. Such transmission may have been facilitated by the nearby heliport. The comparison between the cumulative incidence of Q fever among blood donors during the spring seasons of 1995 and 1996 confirmed the outbreak (0.38% vs. 2.58%, respectively; P<0.0001). Health authorities promptly decided to close the slaughterhouse. The use of complementary epidemiological methods allows investigators to focus on major issues related to an outbreak: timely detection of cases, identification of the source, estimations of incidence, and public health intervention. Rapid recognition and management of outbreaks in the general population of a rural region need to be improved, particularly at a time when airborne agents could be used as biological weapons.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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