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Sheep Sheep and other livestock could be the source of Q-fever for bioterrorists as well as the target of terrorist attacks.
Agents of Bioterror
Q Fever

incubation period | symptoms | how it would spread | treatment | vaccine

Q (or "query") fever generally affects sheep, cattle, and other farm animals. The disease agent, the rickettsial bacterium Coxiella burnetti, builds up in placental tissues, so veterinarians and farmers aiding animal births are at risk. But natural human cases are rare.

In the 1960s, bioweapons developers in the U.S. considered Q fever an excellent "incapacitating" agent. The disease is debilitating, but rarely lethal. The U.S. military envisioned using Q fever to cripple enemy forces and drain them of resources.

The Soviets, and possibly Iraq, have developed and tested Q fever. And the cult Aum Shinrikyo obtained the microbe and toyed unsuccessfully with its use. Q fever may appeal less to bioterrorists than to militaries, however, because it is an inherently survivable disease.

Incubation period before symptoms
2-3 weeks

  • high fever, chills, and throbbing headache
  • profuse sweating
  • visual and auditory hallucinations
  • pneumonia
  • hepatitis

How it would be spread
Aerosol or food. Human-to-human transmission is rare.

Even untreated, most people with Q fever will recover. Treatment with a variety of antibiotics shortens illness and results in fewer complications.

A vaccine exists but is not available to the general public.

Anthrax   Botulism   Cholera   Glanders

Plague   Q Fever   Smallpox   Tularemia

Chart of the 8 agents

Photo: Corbis Images

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