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International Society for Infectious Diseases <http://www.isid.org>

Date: 9 Sep 2011
Source: Alaska Dispatch [edited]

A discovery last year [2010] that northern fur seals on St. Paul Island were carrying _Coxiella burnetti_, a bacteria that can cause illness, has motivated scientists to do more sleuthing. Can the bacteria cause seals and other marine mammals to get sick? Were villagers ever exposed to it, and if so, did they become ill?

The infection, known as Q Fever, can cause a varying mix of flu-like symptoms, including a high fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Alaska has documented only one case of the bacteria making an Alaskan sick, and that person picked it up overseas, according a bulletin issued 7 Sep [2011] by the Alaska Department of Epidemiology in response to findings by Colorado State University researchers. But that doesn't mean there haven't been other cases, since Alaska didn't begin to collect data on human _Coxiella_ infections until 2007.

_Coxiella burnetti_ is more generally known to occur in land animals and birds. In Alaska, caribou, muskoxen, mountain goats, Dall sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears have been tested for the bacteria, with caribou discovered as the largest carrier. Although the bacteria are present among this wildlife, there is no evidence the bacteria has made any of the wildlife sick, according to the bulletin. The CSU study, combined with recent occurrences of human illness in places like the state of Washington, Greenland and the Netherlands, has the science community taking a new look at the disease.

There is a long list of known facts about Q Fever. It's been around a long time. It's found just about everywhere, including places you might expect, like near animals, and those that might surprise you, like schools, retail stores and banks. It's hard to kill. It travels easily on dust particles and is found in animal placentas, milk and feces, and because it could feasibly be used in an aerosol to spray over a wide area, it's considered a potential bioterrorism agent, one that won't kill people but which could debilitate large numbers of them by making them sick.

Louis Castrodale, an epidemiologist with the state of Alaska who helped author the Q Fever bulletin, describes the bacteria as a "ubiquitous organism" that's found not just in animals but also in oceans, sediments, and other places in the environment. Of interest is that while it is present in a wide variety of places, the numbers of people who get sick from it aren't huge, she said.

Data from the CDC illustrates how unusual the illness is in people in the United States. The CDC has never received more than 200 reports of it in a given year. Yet common flu can strike between 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population each year, anywhere from 15 to 62 million people.

Historically, people have not routinely looked for _Coxiella burnetti_ in marine mammals, which makes the current findings difficult to place into context. Has the bacteria always been around in marine mammal populations but just hasn't been noticed? Or, is it just starting to affect species that had previously been unexposed or unaffected? And, does it have the potential to make sea life or the humans that come into contact with it sick? The answers aren't known.

To learn more, CSU has returned to the Pribilof Islands to study the bacteria's effect on fur seals in more depth. Scientists also want to find out whether _Coxiella_ is present in Stellar sea lions, ice seals, walrus and other animals and birds from the area.

Previous blood samples collected from villagers of St. Paul and St.
George Islands in the 1980s and 1990s will also be tested for _Coxiella burnetti_ antibodies.

Ultimately, scientists want to know how widespread _Coxiella_ is among Alaska's marine life, how long it's been around, whether it's made people sick in the past, and how to prevent it in the future.

[Byline: Jill Burke <jill@alaskadispatch.com>]

Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap alerts

[This is a fascinating observation. First of all, why would someone look for Q-fever in marine mammals? Maybe because the bacterium can affect most mammals; but it does not explain the trigger that lead researchers to look.

While the article details some things about the organism, including how ubiquitous it is and that it can ride on dust particles, there remain many unanswered questions. The article does not raise the question of how important is it in the seal population or what it means for human health. Clearly, there are more questions than answers. - Mod.TG]

[see also:
Q fever - Luxembourg: animal, susp, RFI 20110818.2509 Q fever - USA: raw cow's milk, ex goat 20110624.193 Q fever - Australia (03): duration of vaccine protection
Q fever - Australia (02): background 20110403.1029 Q fever - Australia: (NS) 20110401.1005 Q fever - Germany (02): (NW, HE) background 20110225.0620 Q fever - Germany: (NW, HE) human, animal 20110223.0604 Q fever - Netherlands: human, animal 20110213.0490 Q fever - Netherlands: OIE follow-up report 20110121.0248 2010
Q fever - Netherlands (31): (NB) investigation report 20100930.3546 Q fever - Netherlands (30): peaked, mitigation measures 20100727.2513 Q fever - Netherlands (29): update 20100716.2382 Q fever - Netherlands (28): update 20100601.1826 Q fever - Netherlands (27): risk assessment, Europe 20100525.1742 Q fever - Netherlands (26): update, EFSA 20100512.1544 Q fever - Netherlands (25): update 20100421.1287 Q fever - Netherlands (24): update 20100418.1266 Q fever - Netherlands (22): update, humans, animals 20100321.0898 Q fever - Netherlands (21): animal vaccination resumed 20100310.0782 Q fever - Netherlands (21): animal vaccination resumed 20100310.0782 Q fever - Netherlands (20): Canadian policy update 20100310.0765 Q fever - Netherlands (19): Canadian policy clarified 20100306.0742 Q fever - Netherlands (18): update & review 20100303.0703 Q fever - Netherlands (17): international response 20100227.0656 Q fever - Netherlands (16): human, animal 20100226.0643 Q fever - Netherlands (15): 2 new outbreaks, update 20100220.0583 Q fever - Netherlands (14): PCR test reliability 20100217.0559 Q fever - Netherlands (13): human, animal 20100217.0554 Q fever - Netherlands (12): 3 new outbreaks 20100213.0513 Q fever - Netherlands (11): culling dispute 20100206.0407 Q fever - Netherlands (10): international response 20100204.0380 Q fever - Netherlands (09): zoo-sanitary measures 20100128.0307 Q fever - Netherlands (08): sheep, update 20100125.0278 Q fever - Netherlands (07): update 20100115.0182 Q fever - Netherlands (06): OIE 20100115.0181 Q fever - Netherlands (05): investigation committee 20100112.0144 Q fever - Netherlands (04): culling 20100111.0119 Q fever - Netherlands (03): update 20100107.0079 Q fever - Netherlands (02): update 20100105.0047 Q fever - Netherlands: monitoring 20100103.0028
Q fever - Netherlands (19): update 20091229.4375 Q fever - Netherlands (18): update 20091225.4334 Q fever - Netherlands (17): pathogenicity, RFI 20091222.4312 Q fever - Netherlands (16): pathogenicity, RFI 20091222.4304 Q fever - Netherlands (15): update 20091219.4286 Q fever - Netherlands (14): update 20091217.4271 Q fever, animals - Belgium: RFI 20091213.4234 Q fever - Netherlands (13): control measures 20091209.4198 Q fever - Netherlands (12): update 20091207.4173 Q fever - Netherlands (11): public health 20091113.3930 Q fever - Netherlands (10): update 20091107.3861 Q fever - Netherlands (09): predictions 20091004.3452 Q fever - Netherlands (08): update, monitoring & animal vaccination 20090927.3380 Q fever - Netherlands (07) 20090908.3169 Q fever - Netherlands (06) 20090814.2889 Q fever - Netherlands (05) 20090629.2355 Q fever - Netherlands (04): fatalities 20090626.2330 Q Fever - Netherlands (03): update, animal vaccination 20090510.1744 Q Fever - Netherlands (02): (NB) 20090508.1721 Q fever, caprine - Netherlands: (LI) 20090331.1230 Q fever - Netherlands: sheep & goat vaccination 20090228.0841
Q fever - Netherlands (04): sheep & goat vaccination 20081023.3352 Q fever - Netherlands (03): (NBR, GEL) 20080802.2367 Q fever - Netherlands (02): (NBR) 20080728.2306 Q fever - Netherlands: (NBR) 20080725.2267
Q fever - Netherlands (Noord-Brabant, Gelderland) 20070809.2592] .................................................sb/tg/msp/dk/ll
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