Q fever is an infectious disease which can be transmitted from animals to people (zoonosis). In the Netherlands, the source of the disease as far as people are concerned are infected dairy goats and sheep. Q fever cannot be passed from person to person. There was a Q fever epidemic in the Netherlands between 2007 and 2011.

After a peak, there was a significant decrease in the number of Q fever patients

Q fever occurred sporadically in the Netherlands until 2007. On average 15 people reported this illness every year. The world's largest Q fever epidemic occurred in the Netherlands from 2007 up to and including 2010. More than 4,000 patients were reported and tens of thousands of pregnant goats and sheep were slaughtered. Most of the patients became infected due to breathing in the air containing the bacteria distributed  by the wind. The Q fever epidemic was stopped by government measures (the slaughter of infected animals and vaccination). RIVM receives a number of reports of new Q fever patients every year.

You can find up-to-date figures on the RIVM website.

edited January 9th 2018

Symptoms and infection

Q fever is a disease which is caused by a bacterium (Coxiella Burnetti) which is carried primarily by goats and sheep, as well as other animals.


Q fever is not easy to identify. More than half the people with Q fever do not show any symptoms. The people who do have symptoms, appear to be suffering from flu. Sometimes Q fever can develop into something more serious. In such instances the disease leads quickly to serious headache, high-temperature and pneumonia with a dry cough and chest pain. Sometimes Q fever can result in a chronic infection. This often includes inflammation of the heart.

Spread of infection

You can catch Q fever by breathing in the air containing the bacteria. The bacteria get into the air during the lambing of infected goats or sheep. In particular, the amniotic fluid and the placenta of infected animals contain large quantities of bacteria. The bacteria may also be present in milk, manure and urine, but not in the meat of the goat of the sheep. Other animals, such as cows and pets, can also be infected and can transfer the infection to people. In the Netherlands, this has never really happened as yet.


In the Netherlands, a vaccine is only available for animals. You can read more about Q fever on the RIVM website.

edited January 9th 2018

Obligatory vaccination of sheep and goats

All public companies, professional dairy sheep and goat businesses (businesses with more than 50 animals) and breeding establishments with more than 50 animals which are all intended for milk production, are obliged to vaccinate their sheep and goats before 1 August every year. The registration of the vaccination performed must also have been processed in the I&R database before 1 August. Animals that are older than 3 months which are supplied to an inspection or shows must also be vaccinated by no later than 3 weeks before the event. The NVWA sends a letter containing the vaccination rules to all professional dairy sheep and goat businesses and breeding establishments. More information is available from the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority [Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit].

edited January 9th 2018

Infection by the Q fever bacteria cannot be prevented because the bacteria are breathed in from the air.

  • Are you pregnant or suffer from cardiac problems? Or do you have an immune disorder? In that case you should avoid direct contact with dairy goats and sheep.
  • Do you live in a Q fever area, or have you been to one? If so, be extra alert to symptoms associated with Q fever, such as fever and headache or coughing. Make sure you consult your general practitioner (GO) in good time.

Avoid consuming untreated milk or milk products. The bacteria become inactive during pasteurisation or cooking. More information about nutrition and the risk of Q fever can be obtained from the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority [Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit].

edited January 9th 2018