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Number of deaths from Q fever still rising years after the outbreak

People in the Netherlands still die from the consequences of chronic Q fever, report researchers from hospitals in Nijmegen, Den Bosch and Utrecht. The total number of deaths attributed to a permanent Q fever infection has risen to 116 in recent years. Since 2018, 21 patients have died. ‘These data show that an outbreak can cause new victims for a long time afterwards,’ concludes the Radboudumc in Nijmegen.

The largest Q fever outbreak in the world occurred between 2007 and 2011 in the southeast of the Netherlands. Between fifty and one hundred thousand people contracted the Q fever bacteria. It can be passed from sheep and goats to humans. In most people, the bacteria disappears from their bodies over time, but a minority of patients developed a chronic infection.

Data from patients with chronic Q fever are collected in the National Chronic Q fever Database, a collaboration between UMC Utrecht, Radboudumc and Jeroen Bosch Hospital. The team consists of Jan Jelrik Oosterheert, internist-infectiologist, Chantal Bleeker-Rovers professor of infectious disease outbreaks and physician-microbiologist Peter Wever. The database contains data from 585 patients. A recent update added 66 people with proven or suspected chronic Q fever since the last time in 2018. ‘It is striking that even ten years after the end of this major outbreak, new cases of chronic Q fever have still been diagnosed in patients who were infected years ago,’ says Radboudumc.

Actual numbers of chronic infections and deaths are likely higher, the researchers think. Because chronic Q fever is a relatively unknown disease, the correct diagnosis is often missed, according to them. People with this chronic condition can develop complications to their heart and blood vessels. Long-term courses of antibiotics are needed to combat the bacteria in them. The figures published on Thursday make it clear once again that the disease can be fatal.

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