Date: Thu 24 Jan 2019
Source: Tolo News [edited]
At least 90 British military personnel have been diagnosed with confirmed cases of Q fever after serving in Helmand, Afghanistan. According to a UK military news outlet, Forces Network, a consultant in infectious diseases and tropical medicine told to the Central London Country Court on [Tue 22 Jan 2019], that 90 confirmed cases of Q fever had been recorded among British soldiers who had served in Helmand.
Lieutenant Colonel Mark Bailey's testimony was heard in the case of a private with 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, who said his life has been ruined after he contracted the disease while in Helmand in 2011/2012. During his tour, his lawyers said [the private] was in contact with goats and sheep and "was often required to take cover and jump through ditches and crawl along the ground -- coming into contact with animal products and excrement." The soldier was medically discharged from the Army in 2014 because of his Q fever and chronic fatigue symptoms.
Humans can catch Q fever by breathing in dust from the secretions of infected farm animals such as sheep, cattle, and goats.
Bailey, who specializes in infectious diseases and tropical medicine, and a national expert in Q fever said he has 90 military and 10 civilian cases in his care after they were referred to him. He confirmed the 90 had served in Helmand and said the number of military cases "built up from 2008", Forces Network reported. Bailey told the court: "We have seen no new cases since 2014 from Afghanistan. Occasionally we get other military cases from other locations. Cyprus most recently."
Bailey said he had seen "one British soldier who very, very nearly died" as a result of Q fever and subsequent complications, but there have been no UK deaths in his group.
[Q fever is due to _Coxiella burnetii_, an obligate intracellular rickettsia-like bacterial pathogen. It is highly resistant to drying and heat, which enables the bacteria to survive for long periods in the environment. Its survival is attributed to a small cell variant of the organism that is part of its biphasic developmental cycle. Q fever is a zoonosis. Domestic ungulates such as sheep, cattle, and goats serve as the reservoir of infection for humans. The organism is shed in urine, feces, milk, and especially birthing products; intermittent high-level shedding occurs at the time of parturition, with millions of bacteria being released per gram of placenta.
Humans usually become infected by inhaling aerosolized organisms. Acute symptoms of a flu-like illness usually develop within 2-3 weeks of exposure, although as many as half of humans infected with _C. burnetii_ do not show symptoms (<http://www.cdc.gov/qfever/symptoms/index.html
>). Although most persons with acute Q fever infection recover, others may experience serious illness with complications that may include pneumonia, granulomatous hepatitis, endocarditis (especially in patients with previous cardiac valvulopathy), myocarditis, and central nervous system involvement. Pregnant women who are infected may be at risk for pre-term delivery or miscarriage.
The solider likely suffers from Q fever-associated chronic fatigue. The following related to post-Q fever fatigue syndrome is extracted from Melgar TA, Bauler TJ, Lutwick LI. Q fever in man: A one health paradigm disease. In, The Principles and Practice of Q Fever, Simoes JCC, Anastacio SF, da Silva GJ (eds), Nova Science Publishers, 2017, pp 1-24:
"Up to 20% of patients with acute Q fever report chronic fatigue more than a year later. Most of these cases meet the CDC criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome. Other symptoms include night sweats, nausea, headache, myalgia, enlarged lymph nodes, arthralgia, insomnia, depression, decreased concentration and short term memory impairment. The pathogenesis is not clear although there is evidence that genetic factors may play a role and _C. burnetii_ antigens and DNA can be found in patients' macrophages for up to 12 years and in one case 70 years after acute infection (1,2). Treatment is focused on chronic fatigue including exercise therapy and cognitive behavior therapy. There are no current recommendations for antimicrobial therapy for Q fever-associated chronic fatigue although case reports and one study demonstrated improvement with antimicrobials (3). A large placebo controlled randomized trial in the Netherlands (4,5) reported some non-sustained improvement was found with cognitive-behavioral therapy but not with long term doxycycline.
1. Marmion BP, Sukocheva O, Storm PA, et al. Q fever: persistence of antigenic non-viable cell residues of _Coxiella burnetii_ in the host - implications for post Q fever infection fatigue syndrome and other chronic sequelae. QJM 2009; 102(10): 673-84; abstract available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19556396
2. Sukocheva OA, Marmion BP, Storm PA, et al. Long-term persistence after acute Q fever of non-infectious _Coxiella burnetii_ cell components, including antigens. QJM 2010; 103(11): 847-63; abstract available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20639288
4. Keijmel SP, Delsing CE, Bleigenberg G, et al. Effectiveness of long-term doxycycline treatment and cognitive-behavioral therapy on fatigue severity in patients with Q fever fatigue syndrome (Qure study): a randomized controlled trial. Clin Infect Did 2017; 64(8): 998-1005; <https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/64/8/998/3056564
Helmand is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, in the south of the country. It can be seen on a map at
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan: