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Current laboratory diagnosis of Q fever.

Q fever is a worldwide zoonosis caused by the strictly intracellular bacterium Coxiella burnetii. Among symptomatic patients (one-half of patients remain asymptomatic), acute Q fever most frequently manifests as a self-limited febrile illness, pneumonia, or hepatitis. Endocarditis is the predominant form of chronic Q fever. All the classical techniques of bacteriology may be used for diagnosis of C burnetii infection. Nonetheless, because of the risk of contamination, isolation must be performed in biosafety level 3 laboratories. Moreover, to date no diagnostic tests for detection by polymerase chain reaction or specific antibodies for immunochemistry are available commercially. Hence, Q fever is diagnosed in most cases by serology. The most reliable technique appears to be micro-immunofluorescence, which exhibits both good sensitivity and specificity. A wider use of this serology in cases of blood culture-negative endocarditis, atypical pneumonia, unexplained fever, and hepatitis should lead to an increase of diagnosed cases.

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