Survey of laboratory animal technicians in the United States for coxiella burnetii antibodies and exploration of risk factors for exposure

Ellen A. Spotts Whitney, Robert F. Massung, Gilbert J. Kersh, Kelly A. Fitzpatrick, Deborah M. Mook, Douglas K. Taylor, Michael J. Huerkamp, Jessica C. Vakili, Patrick J. Sullivan, Ruth L. Berkelman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Little is known about the prevalence of zoonotic infections among laboratory animal care technicians (LAT). Q fever, a disease caused by Coxiella burnetii, is a known occupational hazard for persons caring for livestock. We sought to determine the seroprevalence of C. burnetii antibodies among LAT and to identify risk factors associated with C. burnetii seropositivity. A survey was administered and serum samples collected from a convenience sample of 97 LAT. Samples were screened by using a Q fever IgG ELISA. Immunofluorescent antibody assays for phase I and phase II IgG were used to confirm the status of samples that were positive or equivocal by ELISA; positive samples were titered to endpoint. Antibodies against C. burnetii were detected in 6 (6%) of the 97 respondents. In our sample of LAT, seropositivity to C. burnetii was therefore twice as high in LAT as compared with the general population. Age, sex, and working with sheep regularly were not associated with seropositivity. Risk factors associated with seropositivity included breeding cattle within respondent's research facility, any current job contact with waste from beef cattle or goats, and exposure to animal waste during previous jobs or outside of current job duties. Only 15% of responding LAT reported being aware that sheep, goats, and cattle can transmit Q fever. Research facilities that use cattle or goats should evaluate their waste-management practices and educational programs in light of these findings. Additional efforts are needed to increase awareness among LAT regarding Q fever and heightened risk of exposure to infectious materials. Physicians should consider the risk of infection with C. burnetii when treating LAT with potential occupational exposures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)725-731
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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