To the consternation of medical students and others who are obliged to learn such matters for exams, the number of special attributes that distinguish one pathogen from the others is colossal. But to those who are genuinely interested in the world of pathogens, each assortment of distinguishing properties holds its own fascination. Coxiella burnetii is a fine example of an agent rich in striking traits. This is a γ-proteobacterium, somewhat akin to Legionella, that causes a zoonotic disease, Q fever, which manifests as an acute influenza-like illness. It can also establish a chronic infection in immunocompromised individuals resulting in a potentially fatal endocarditis that is notoriously recalcitrant to antibiotics. C. burnetii is usually disseminated via contaminated aerosols and livestock workers are exposed to this pathogen while working with infected animals. A 2007-2009 outbreak of Q fever in Holland afflicted over 4,000 people and claimed 11 lives. This is a highly infectious agent that has been included in the list of possible candidates for bioterrorism. Clearly, we need to know more about this agent and how to control it.
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