Q fever through consumption of unpasteurised milk and milk products – a risk profile and exposure assessment

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Q fever is a zoonotic disease caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii which is endemic in cattle, sheep and goats in much of the world, including the United Kingdom (UK). There is some epidemiological evidence that a small proportion of cases in the developed world may arise from consumption of unpasteurised milk with less evidence for milk products such as cheese. Long maturation at low pH may give some inactivation in hard cheese, and viable C. burnetii are rarely detected in unpasteurised cheese compared to unpasteurised milk. Simulations presented here predict that the probability of exposure per person to one or more C. burnetii through the daily cumulative consumption of raw milk in the UK is 0·4203. For those positive exposures, the average level of exposure predicted is high at 1266 guinea pig intraperitoneal infectious dose 50% units (GP_IP_ID50) per person per day. However, in the absence of human dose–response data, the case is made that the GP_IP_ID50 unit represents a very low risk through the oral route. The available evidence suggests that the risks from C. burnetii through consumption of unpasteurised milk and milk products (including cheese) are not negligible but they are lower in comparison to transmission via inhalation of aerosols from parturient products and livestock contact.

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