Prevalence of Coxiella burnetii in clinically healthy German sheep flocks
Background: Current epidemiological data on the situation of Coxiella (C.) burnetii infections in sheep are missing, making risk assessment and the implementation of counteractive measures difficult. Using the German state of Thuringia as a model example, the estimated sero-, and antigen prevalence of C. burnetii (10% and 25%, respectively) was assessed at flock level in 39/252 randomly selected clinically healthy sheep flocks with more than 100 ewes and unknown abortion rate. Results: The CHECKITTM Q-fever Test Kit identified 11 (28%) antibody positive herds, whereas real-time PCR revealed the presence of C. burnetii DNA in 2 (5%) of the flocks. Multiple-locus variable number of tandem repeats analysis of 9 isolates obtained from one flock revealed identical profiles. All isolates contained the plasmid QpH1. Conclusions: The results demonstrate that C. burnetii is present in clinically inconspicuous sheep flocks and sporadic flare-ups do occur as the notifications to the German animal disease reporting system show. Although C. burnetii infections are not a primary veterinary concern due to the lack of significant clinical impact on animal health (with the exception of goats), the eminent zoonotic risk for humans should not be underestimated. Therefore, strategies combining the interests of public and veterinary public health should include monitoring of flocks, the identification and culling of shedders as well as the administration of protective vaccines.