‘We need answers’: why are people living near Dutch goat farms getting sick?
A decade after an outbreak of Q fever killed 95 people in the Netherlands, scientists fear the emergence of a new disease
In early 2008, Jeannette van de Ven began to see a slightly higher rate of miscarriages among the goats on her dairy farm in the south of the Netherlands.
“We sent the samples to the veterinary authority. Nine out of 10 results showed no explanation. Only maybe toxoplasmosis from cats. We had no cats,” she says.
Van de Ven, who keeps a herd of around 1,700 dairy goats in Noord-Brabant, a province densely populated with goat farms, kept sending samples. Finally, in May 2008 an outbreak of the respiratory infection Q fever was confirmed. It infects livestock including goats, sheep and cattle, and is found in placenta, amniotic fluid, urine, faeces and milk.
The disease turned into a nightmare for the Netherlands after thousands of people also became infected during the outbreak, which lasted from 2007 to 2010. The Dutch government culled more than 50,000 dairy goats on 55 farms in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.
About half of the humans infected ended up developing complications, such as heart failure, and 95 people died.