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Am J Med. 1992 Oct;93(4):427-34.

Epidemiologic features and clinical presentation of acute Q fever in hospitalized patients: 323 French cases.

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Unité des Rickettsies, Faculté de Médecine, Marseille, France.



To contribute to the knowledge of epidemiologic and clinical features of patients hospitalized with Q fever in France.


We conducted a retrospective analysis of 22,496 sera submitted between 1982 and 1990 to the French National Reference Center for Rickettsial Diseases (NRC). The diagnosis of acute Q fever was based on an IgG titer greater than or equal to 1:200 and an IgM titer greater than or equal to 1:25 against phase II Coxiella burnetii antigen on an indirect immunofluorescence test (IFA). Fifteen cases prior to 1985 were diagnosed on the basis of a complement fixation titer greater than or equal to 1:8. A serosurvey of blood donors from Marseille was also conducted in 1988 on 924 sera, using IFA with a cutoff titer of 1:25.


The serosurvey conducted in 1988 showed a seroprevalence of 4.03%, without age or sex prediction. The incidence rate of acute Q fever detection at the NRC was 0.58 per 100,000 inhabitants over the 9-year period. Three hundred twenty-three clinical cases were diagnosed, rising from 1 in 1982 to 107 in 1990. In patients hospitalized for acute Q fever, there was a significantly higher sex ratio of males to females (2.3), which, coupled with the age distribution, indicated that elder males, who are overrepresented due to our recruitment bias, are more susceptible to C. burnetii infections. The mean age of the patients was 45.5 years, while the risk was increased in the 30 to 39 age group as well as in the 60 to 69 age group. Usual epidemiologic risk factors were found in 20.1% of the cases. Hepatitis (61.9%) was a more common clinical presentation in our patients with Q fever than pneumonia (45.8%). This might reflect differences in strains of C. burnetii or the biology of the host. However, French farmers and stock breeders commonly drink unpasteurized raw milk from their cattle, which might indicate a relationship between hepatitis and infection via the digestive tract.


Our results indicate that many cases of acute Q fever are undiagnosed. A greater awareness of the disease and more extensive serologic testing of patients with symptoms compatible with Q fever may improve the situation.

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