Coxiella burnetii is a bacterium that infects the feces, urine, and milk of animals such as sheep, cattle, and goats. The amniotic fluid and placenta of pregnant animals contain high levels of the bacteria. Coxiella burnetii causes acute or chronic Q fever. The Q stands for "query" because, when researchers named the illness, the cause was unknown; they initially believed C. burnetii only infected animals. In 1940, experts identified the cause and effect relationship of the bacteria and subsequent fever.
Humans contract Coxiella burnetii primarily from breathing in dust contaminated with feces and urine of infected animals. Less common sources of infection are direct contact with animals and consuming unpasteurized milk or dairy products from infected livestock. C. burnetii can also transfer through blood transfusions and from mother to child during childbirth, but these routes are rare.
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