Open Access Research article

No excess risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes among women with serological markers of previous infection with Coxiella burnetii: evidence from the Danish National Birth Cohort

Stine Yde Nielsen12*, Anne-Marie Nybo Andersen3, Kåre Mølbak4, Niels Henrik Hjøllund15, Bjørn Kantsø6, Karen Angeliki Krogfelt7 and Tine Brink Henriksen8

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Occupational Medicine, Regional Hospital West Jutland, Gl. Landevej 61, Herning 7400, Denmark

2 Perinatal Epidemiology Research Unit, Aarhus University Hospital, Skejby, Brendstrupgaardsvej, Aarhus N, Denmark

3 Section of Social Medicine, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Oster Farimagsgade 5, Copenhagen, DK-1014, Denmark

4 Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Statens Serum Institut, Artillerivej 5, Copenhagen S, 2300, Denmark

5 Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark

6 Department of microbiology and infection control, Statens Serum Institut, Artillerivej 5, Copenhagen S, 2300, Denmark

7 Department of microbiology and infection control, Statens Serum Institut, Artillerivej 5, Copenhagen S, 2300, Denmmark

8 Perinatal Epidemiology Research Unit and Department of Pediatrics, Aarhus University Hospital, Brendstrupgaardsvej, Aarhus N, 8200, Denmark

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:87  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-87

Published: 17 February 2013



Q fever caused by Coxiella burnetii is transmitted to humans by inhalation of aerosols from animal birth products. Q fever in pregnancy is suspected to be a potential cause of fetal and maternal morbidity and fetal mortality but the pathogenesis is poorly understood, and even in Q fever endemic areas, the magnitude of a potential association is not established.

We aimed to examine if presence of antibodies to C. burnetii during pregnancy or seroconversion were associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes.


The Danish National Birth Cohort collected blood samples and interview data from 100,418 pregnant women (1996–2002). We sampled 397 pregnant women with occupational or domestic exposure to cattle or sheep and a random sample of 459 women with no animal exposure. Outcome measures were spontaneous abortion, preterm birth, birth weight and Small for Gestational Age (SGA).

Blood samples collected in pregnancy were screened for antibodies against C. burnetii by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Samples positive for IgG or IgM antibodies in the ELISA were confirmed by immunofluorescence antibody test (IFA).


Among the 856 women, 169 (19.7%) women were IFA positive; 147 (87%) of these had occupational or domestic contact with livestock (IFA cutoff > =1:128).

Two abortions were IFA positive vs. 6 IFA negative (OR: 1.5; 95%CI: 0.3-7.6). Three preterm births were IFA positive vs. 38 IFA negative (OR: 0.4; 95% CI: 0.1-1.1). There was a significant difference in birth weight of 168 g (95% CI: 70-267 g) with IFA positive being heavier, and the risk of being SGA was not increased in the newborns of IFA positive women (OR: 0.4; 95%CI: 0.8-1.0).

Most seropositive women were IgG positive indicating previous exposure. Seroconversion during pregnancy was found in 10 women; they all delivered live babies at term, but two were SGA.


We found no increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcome in women with verified exposure to C. burnetii.

To our knowledge, this is the first population-based seroepidemiologic study evaluating pregnancy outcome in women with serologically verified exposure to C. burnetii against a comparable reference group of seronegative women.

Q fever; Coxiella burnetii; Infection; Human; Pregnancy; Spontaneous abortion; Preterm birth