Q fever. Ever heard of it?
It doesn’t currently affect many people in developed countries, but infection rates have risen rapidly in the last decade. It’s highly infectious, can be deadly, and is found everywhere except Antarctica.
Q fever is an infection cause by a bacterium Coxiella burnetii, which humans get from animals. Domesticated herd animals like dairy cattle can carry the bacteria and entire herds can experience significant reproductive problems as a result.
Humans can get Q fever after contact with an infected animal’s bodily fluids, so veterinarians, farmers, and sheep shearers are among those most at risk of infection. People can also get Q fever from tick bites and ingestion of unpasteurized milk and dairy products.
Human infection takes 2 forms: acute and chronic. The acute form causes flu-like symptoms and can result in life-threatening pneumonia. Chronic Q fever is usually fatal if untreated, but mortality drops to just 10% with proper treatment.
Even though this disease was discovered more than 80 years ago, there is still not a good vaccine for it. Even worse: the best vaccine available can cause severe negative reactions if it’s administered to people who were exposed to this bacterium before (even if they didn’t actually get sick).
The NIH is sponsoring our efforts to develop a safer and more effective Q fever vaccine. Previous work pinpointed which type of cell response is best for defeating Q fever without damaging the body.
Now, we are using empty virus capsids (shells) to deliver Q fever vaccine candidates, and to manipulate the immune response for induction of only the protective mechanisms.