Relationship between Coxiella burnetii (Q fever) antibody serology and time spent outdoors

Gijs Klous*, Lidwien AM Smit, Wim van der Hoek, Mirjam EE Kretzschmar, Piet Vellema, Roel A. Coutinho, Dick JJ Heederik, Anke Huss

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background/aim: From 2007 through 2010, the Netherlands experienced the largest recorded Q fever outbreak to date. People living closer to Coxiella burnetii infected goat farms were at increased risk for acute Q fever. Time spent outdoors near infected farms may have contributed to exposure to C. burnetii. The aim of this study was to retrospectively evaluate whether hours/week spent outdoors, in the vicinity of previously C. burnetii infected goat farms, was associated with presence of antibodies against C. burnetii in residents of a rural area in the Netherlands. Methods: Between 2014-2015, we collected C. burnetii antibody serology and self-reported data about habitual hours/week spent outdoors near the home from 2494 adults. From a subgroup we collected 941 GPS tracks, enabling analyses of active mobility in the outbreak region. Participants were categorised as exposed if they spent time within specified distances (500m, 1000m, 2000m, or 4000m) of C. burnetii infected goat farms. We evaluated whether time spent near these farms was associated with positive C. burnetii serology using spline analyses and logistic regression. Results: People that spent more hours/week outdoors near infected farms had a significantly increased risk for positive C. burnetii serology (time spent within 2000m of a C. burnetii abortion-wave positive farm, OR 3.6 (1.2-10.6)), compared to people spending less hours/week outdoors. Conclusions: Outdoor exposure contributed to the risk of becoming C. burnetii serology positive. These associations were stronger if people spent more time near C. burnetii infected farms. Outdoor exposure should, if feasible, be included in outbreak investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-97
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Infection
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Exposure
  • Outbreak
  • Outdoors
  • Q fever
  • Time
  • Zoonosis


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