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Q Fever

Q fever is said to be the most infectious disease in the world since a single organism can lead to illness whereas other bacterial infections don’t cause illness until colonization has reached illness-inducing proportions. The bacterium that causes it, Coxiella burnetii, is found everywhere on earth except New Zealand.

Called Q (for query) at a time before its source had been isolated, the bacterium is rather uncommon but it affects humans as well as animals and is more likely to be found in livestock and other domesticated animals, including dogs and cats. Infection occurs when contaminated particles are inhaled or from direct contact with the wool, meat, milk, and other body fluids of infected animals.

People, usually men, who work with these animals are at highest risk of infection but ticks can transport the bacterium, too. Spreading infection from one human to another is so rare it’s almost nonexistent.

Illness usually begins two weeks after exposure, with an abrupt onset of flu-like symptoms that include fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, coughing and chest pains, and gastrointestinal distress. The disease usually lasts one to two weeks.

Complications of Q fever include pneumonia and hepatitis, both of which can be life threatening if not properly treated. When chronic, Q fever can cause endocarditis, or inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. When untreated, the endocarditis is usually fatal but adequate treatment reduces the mortality rate to just 10%.

In most cases, antibiotics are prescribed to successfully treat Q fever and people who’ve never experienced a bout of Q fever can usually be vaccinated effectively with just a single injection.

Renal Disease

Many diseases affect our kidneys directly while others weaken the kidneys as a side effect of the main disease. Medications, alcohol, and other ingested toxins jeopardize kidney health, too, but a new study suggests getting a good night’s sleep is highly beneficial in fending off renal disease and keeping kidneys functioning at optimum capacity.

The University of Toronto study was conducted on hamsters but researchers suggest the kidney-damaging effects may carry through to humans, too. The hamsters were not allowed to sleep in the dark and they slept in erratic cycles. After a rather short period of this simulated sleep deprivation, the hamsters developed dangerously enlarged hearts and scarring of the kidneys enough to threaten healthy function.

People working night shifts or erratic schedules, such as truck drivers, airline flight crews, and emergency medical personnel are at particularly high risk for the neuropsychological risks associated with sleep deprivation but should also consider cellular damage that might be occurring. The body requires sleep to repair, restore, and replace tissue on the cellular level. When adequate sleep is regularly missed, this renewal process is thwarted.

For the best safeguard against renal disease, a regular sleep-wake cycle is vital. When sleep occurs during hours of darkness, the body’s circadian rhythms work best.


Most people who had chickenpox as a child hardly remember being sick. Unfortunately, a bout of shingles later in life is a painful reminder of that usually mild childhood illness.

Shingles, also called herpes zoster, causes very painful blisters that develop in band-like patterns in clusters on just one side of the body. The pain, which can become severe and debilitating, can last as long as several years.

The varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes both chickenpox and shingles. Once exposed to the virus, it can remain dormant for decades but it often becomes reactivated as we age. After age 50, the likelihood of a shingles outbreak increases and becomes more likely each year after that.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued some interesting facts about shingles:

  • More than 95% of the American population has been exposed to VZV.
  • That means more than 95% of the population is at risk for developing shingles.
  • Shingles affects half the population age 85 and older.
  • One-third of all Americans will develop a shingles outbreak at some point during their lives.
  • The risk of serious complications as a result of shingles increases after age 60.
  • When antiviral treatments are begun in the first 72 hours of an outbreak, symptoms, including pain, are usually minimized and length of the outbreak is shortened.

A recently approved shingles vaccine (Zostavax) is recommended for everyone age 60 and older, whether or not a person has already experienced a bout with shingles. One side effect of the vaccine, however, is that a shingles outbreak might occur shortly after vaccination.


The debilitating and highly contagious respiratory disease, tuberculosis, was thought to be on the verge of eradication in some parts of the world but a 2008 report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s more common that one might think. In addition, the bacterium responsible for the disease is mutating in a way that makes it increasingly more resistant to the drugs commonly used to treat the disease.

According to WHO, “about one in twenty cases of tuberculosis in the world is resistant to the first line of drugs” used to treat the disease. Recent outbreaks in Azerbaijan and China have been of the drug-resistant strain.

One possible cause of these tuberculosis outbreaks is that these countries have not invested in the equipment, laboratories, and staff needed to detect disease at the earliest possible opportunity and curb the spread of infection. In other instances, the necessary drugs are unavailable to treat patients when they develop the disease. It’s these places where the drug-resistant strain is most likely to emerge.