A new study reveals Q fever exposure among livestock and humans in Tana River and Garissa counties in Kenya

Q fever is an infectious disease of both veterinary and public health importance. This disease is caused by a bacterium called Coxiella burnetii. In livestock-dependent households, Q fever causes huge losses to farmers due to high abortion rates, stillbirths, infertility, and weak calves, kids or lambs among infected animals. Infected livestock animals, especially cattle, sheep and goats, are the key sources of Coxiella burnetii infections in humans. The main routes of infections are inhalation of contaminated aerosols or dust particles, intake of contaminated milk/dairy products or direct contact with contaminated materials such as abortion products. A recent study conducted in Tana River and Garissa counties, researchers from the University of Embu and other partners found considerable exposure of both humans and livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) to this agent. However, the researchers did not find a positive association between exposed animals at the household level and humans, an indication that these individuals may have been exposed through different routes besides the direct contact with infected animals which was assessed in that study. The study also found that both goats and sheep were more exposed to this bacterium compared to cattle, while among humans, male individuals were more exposed than females. The findings from this study show the need to set up a surveillance system (covering both livestock and humans) for this disease in the study areas to promptly identify cases and determine the key routes of transmission among humans. Given that this disease affects human health, there is also a need to create more public health awareness about this disease in the study area to reduce transmission and burden. Public health education will enhance the adoption of food safety and biosecurity measures against Q fever in the study areas which is thought to be very low or non-existent. Since Q fever causes fever in humans, the findings from this study also suggest that this disease should be considered as part of differential diagnosis when investigating other fever-causing disease agents in the study areas. This will reduce misdiagnosing of this disease which is common in endemic areas.

This study was implemented under the project: Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa: Ecosystems, livestock/ wildlife, health and wellbeing (grant no. NEJ001570), funded by the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation, Programme (ESPA). Additional funding for data analysis and manuscript development was provided through the co-infection project: Coinfection with Rift Valley fever virus, Brucella spp. and Coxiella burnetii in humans and animals in Kenya: Disease burden and ecological factors, funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (contract number HDTRA 11910031).

This article is a summary of a published paper entitled ‘‘Sero-epidemiological survey of Coxiella burnetii in livestock and humans in Tana River and Garissa counties in Kenya’’ published in PloS Neglected Tropical Diseases and available via the link: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0010214