Open Access Research article

Maternofetal consequences of Coxiella burnetii infection in pregnancy: a case series of two outbreaks

Katharina Boden1*, Andreas Brueckmann2, Christiane Wagner-Wiening3, Beate Hermann4, Klaus Henning5, Thomas Junghanss6, Thomas Seidel7, Michael Baier4, Eberhard Straube4 and Dirk Theegarten8

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine, University Hospital Jena, Erlanger Allee 101, 07747, Jena, Germany

2 Department of Gynecology and Obstetric, University Hospital, Jena, Bachstraße 18, 07743, Jena, Germany

3 Q fever Consulting Laboratory, Baden-Wuerttemberg, State Health Office, Nordbahnhofstraße 135, 70191, Stuttgart, Germany

4 Institute of Medical Microbiology, University Hospital Jena, Erlanger Allee 101, 07747, Jena, Germany

5 Institute of Epidemiology, Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute, Seestraße 55, 16868, Wusterhausen, Germany

6 Section of Clinical Tropical Medicine, University Hospital Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 324, 69120, Heidelberg, Germany

7 Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Infectious Diseases, University Hospital Jena, Erlanger Allee 101, 07747, Jena, Germany

8 Institute of Pathology and Neuropathology, University Hospital Essen, University Duisburg-Essen, Hufelandstrasse 55, 45147, Essen, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Infectious Diseases 2012, 12:359  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-12-359

Published: 19 December 2012



A high complication rate of Q fever in pregnancy is described on the basis of a limited number of cases. All pregnant women with proven Q fever regardless of clinical symptoms should therefore receive long-term cotrimoxazole therapy. But cotrimoxazole as a folic acid antagonist may cause harm to the fetus. We therefore investigated the Q fever outbreaks, Soest in 2003 and Jena in 2005, to determine the maternofetal consequences of Coxiella burnetii infection contracted during pregnancy.


Different outbreak investigation strategies were employed at the two sides. Antibody screening was performed with an indirect immunofluorescence test. Medical history and clinical data were obtained and serological follow up performed at delivery. Available placental tissue, amniotic fluid and colostrum/milk were further investigated by polymerase chain reaction and by culture.


11 pregnant women from Soest (screening rate: 49%) and 82 pregnant women from Jena (screening rate: 27%) participated in the outbreak investigation. 11 pregnant women with an acute C. burnetii infection were diagnosed. Three women had symptomatic disease.

Three women, who were infected in the first trimester, were put on long-term therapy. The remaining women received cotrimoxazole to a lesser extent (n=3), were treated with macrolides for three weeks (n=1) or after delivery (n=1), were given no treatment at all (n=2) or received antibiotics ineffective for Q fever (n=1). One woman and her foetus died of an underlying disease not related to Q fever. One woman delivered prematurely (35th week) and one child was born with syndactyly. We found no obvious association between C. burnetii infection and negative pregnancy outcome.


Our data do not support the general recommendation of long-term cotrimoxazole treatment for Q fever infection in pregnancy. Pregnant women with symptomatic C. burnetii infections and with chronic Q fever should be treated. The risk-benefit ratio of treatment in these patients, however, remains uncertain. If cotrimoxazole is administered, folinic acid has to be added.