December 9, 2009 / 6:25 PM / 10 years ago

Dutch to cull sheep, goats to fight Q fever

AMSTERDAM, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Dutch authorities will start slaughtering sheep and goats at farms which have been hit by the highly infectious disease Q fever to stop it spreading to humans, Dutch ministries said on Wednesday.

Q fever is caused by a bacterium that is mostly transmitted to humans from goats and sheep, especially during delivery of young, and the number of human cases of the disease has risen to about 2,200 currently from about 170 in 2007.

On farms that have vaccinated animals, all animals would be tested for Q fever and those contaminated will be culled, Dutch Agriculture Minister Gerda Verburg said.

On farms that have not carried out vaccinations, pregnant animals will be culled in addition to contaminated animals, Verburg added.

“The measures we have taken so far have helped, such as the obligation to vaccinate in some areas. Therefore we can expect a strong decline of cases with humans in 2011. But we also want to do the maximum to limit the consequences next year,” she said.

The measure affects 55 farms in the Netherlands, but Verburg declined to estimate how many sheep and goats would be killed.

There were 1.2 million sheep and 355,000 goats in the Netherlands last year.

Q fever is usually not visible with contaminated goats and sheep, but they can lead to premature or still births.

For humans, the illness causes flu-like symptoms treatable with antibiotics, but can in rare cases be fatal. Six people who had other diseases or were weakened, have died this year while having Q fever. Pregnant women have a small chance of having a miscarriage or premature birth.

Dutch authorities had already taken measures to prevent spreading of Q fever, such as vaccinations programmes for farms holding more than 50 sheep or goats, and restrictions on transport to and from contaminated farms. (Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger; Editing by Keiron Henderson)

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