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While Q fever is considered an occupational hazard of persons associated with livestock, and cattle raising is a major industry in Panamá, little or no data have been available on the status of Q fever infection in that country. Accordingly, the prevalence of complement-fixing antibodies to Coxiella burnetii was investigated in a random selection of 1,059 specimens from 4,700 sera collected in 1968–1969 from people associated with livestock or their by-products in a country-wide survey. Sera were tested by a modifed diagnostic complement-fixation test adapted to the microtiter technique. Of the 1,059 samples examined, 99 (9.4%) contained Q fever complement-fixing antibodies with titers ranging between 1:4 and 1:32 or greater. Positive sera were found among residents in three provinces in central Panamá (Herrera, 20.2%; Panamá, 14.5%; and Los Santos, 13.7%). The lowest rate (2.1% positive) was found in Chiriquí province in western Panamá. These differences are significant. The overall rate (9.4%) found in those in contact with livestock was five times higher than that found in an earlier survey in 1966 among a cross-section of the population in which only 1.8% were positive. Positive sera were found most frequently in those aged 15–19 years (12.4%) and least often in the 10–14 (7.3%) age group. Those who worked in rustic rural slaughterhouses were most frequently positive (16.8%), compared to those in modern abattoirs (8.8%), butcher shops (9.4%), or dairy farms (9.4%). While clinical Q fever was not identified, the association of human infection with the livestock industry is confirmed.
Present address: Virology Division, Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia 30333.