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Q fever, a zoonosis caused by Coxiella burnetii, an obligate intracellular gram-negative bacterium (Arricau-Bouvery and Rodolakis 2005), is currently attracting international attention due to a recent major epidemic (2007–2009) in The Netherlands involving over 3500 reported human cases (Roest and others 2011). Domestic ruminants (goats, sheep and cattle) are the major reservoirs and sources of human infection (Maurin and Raoult 1999); goats are the most susceptible, clinically manifesting with abortion and reproductive problems, followed by sheep and cattle. Humans are affected by acute or chronic influenza-like illness, pneumonia, endocarditis and hepatitis. Shedding of C burnetii differs among ruminant species, milk being the primary route in cattle (Rodolakis and others 2007).
Although human cases appear sporadically in Northern Ireland and south-west England (Reilly and others 1990, Orr and others 2006), and two small epidemics involving 147 and 30 human cases (Hawker and others 1998, Wallensten and others 2010) have been reported, there are few studies of C burnetii prevalence in livestock in the UK. Paiba and others (1999) investigating cows' bulk tank milk (BTM) from England and Wales reported a herd prevalence of 21 per cent. McCaughey and others (2009) reported a Northern Ireland cattle herd seroprevalence of 48.4 per cent, while seroprevalences in sheep and goat flocks were 62.1 per cent and 42.9 per cent, respectively. These surveys …
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