One health” strategy for the study of Q fever at the animal-human-environment interface in northern Spain

  • Funding: INIA (National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology)
  • Leader: Ana García
  • Implementation: 2017-2020

Q fever is a globally distributed zoonosis caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii. The bacterium shows a complex cycle in nature that includes a large number of reservoirs, with domestic cattle being the main source of infection for humans. While wildlife and ticks do not appear to be very important in the transmission of the disease to humans, they play a very important role in maintaining the infection in the natural environment. Since 2015, in Spain it has been compulsory to notify any cases of Q fever, which has led to an increase in the reporting of cases and outbreaks. The Public Health department is making this fact known to the competent authorities in the Animal Health department, making it necessary to give a number of responses to reduce the incidence of infection. It is also necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of the biosafety measures that may potentially be taken at affected farms. The undeniable interest in making the livestock activity sustainable necessarily involves minimising the negative effects from maintaining pathogens or transmitting them to the human population. For all these reasons, collaboration between the Animal Health and Public Health departments is essential for preparing protocols for joint action in the investigation of human outbreaks of Q fever. Moreover, there are still not many studies on the variants of C. burnetii in circulation in our country, especially in the north, where it seems that pneumonic forms of the disease are more frequent. It is also not known whether all of the genotypes present in livestock are capable of producing disease in the human population. There is limited knowledge on the evolution of infection at infected farms, i.e. on the execution of the risk of exposure to C. burnetii after the end of the calving period, and the time (years) that an active infection lasts at an affected farm once control measures have been taken is also unknown. We know that infection in the animal population is decreasing, although C. burnetii spores remain viable in the environment for long periods of time, and genetic material from the bacteria can still be detected in the environment up to 4 years after the onset of the outbreak of abortions due to Q fever. In previous research projects on Q fever, our group has acquired knowledge on the epidemiological and control aspects of coxiellosis in domestic ruminants, although we still regard them as being insufficient for providing solutions to the aforementioned problems. Therefore, in this new coordinated project involving research groups in Animal Health (NEIKER and SERIDA) and Public Health (Bizkaia Public Health Epidemiology Service, Central University Hospital of Asturias), with the support of the Carlos III Health Institute (National Microbiology Centre), the “One Health” strategy aims to tackle C. burnetii infection in domestic animals, humans and the environment in an integrated way.


General objective:

To tackle C. burnetii infection in domestic animals, humans and the environment in an integrated manner through the “One Health” strategy.

Specific objectives:

  1. To determine the species of domestic ruminants, wild animals and ixodidae involved in the domestic and wild cycles of Q fever in northern Spain.
  2. To obtain isolates of C. burnetii from different animal species, ticks and samples of human origin, in order to have a collection of strains for future studies of metagenomics, proteomics and virulence in animal models.
  3. To define the genotypes present in the animal population and the environment that cause abortions in ruminants and to compare them with those that produce disease in the human population. All of this information will be of great use for investigating outbreaks.
  4. To study the viability of C. burnetii in different types of animal and environmental samples in the environment of the farm after successive calving, after applying different control methods.