Massive dispersal of coxiella burnetii among cattle across the United States

Sonora Olivas, Heidie Hornstra, Rachael A. Priestley, Emily Kaufman, Crystal Hepp, Derek L. Sonderegger, Karthik Handady, Robert F. Massung, Paul Keim, Gilbert J. Kersh, Talima Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Q-fever is an underreported disease caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii, which is highly infectious and has the ability to disperse great distances. It is a completely clonal pathogen with low genetic diversity and requires whole-genome analysis to identify discriminating features among closely related isolates. C. burnetii, and in particular one genotype (ST20), is commonly found in cow’s milk across the entire dairy industry of the USA. This single genotype dominance is suggestive of host-specific adaptation, rapid dispersal and persistence within cattle. We used a comparative genomic approach to identify SNPs for high-resolution and high-throughput genotyping assays to better describe the dispersal of ST20 across the USA. We genotyped 507 ST20 cow milk samples and discovered three subgenotypes, all of which were present across the entire country and over the complete time period studied. Only one of these sub-genotypes was observed in a single dairy herd. The temporal and geographic distribution of these sub-genotypes is consistent with a model of large-scale, rapid, frequent and continuous dissemination on a continental scale. The distribution of subgenotypes is not consistent with wind-based dispersal alone, and it is likely that animal husbandry and transportation practices, including pooling of milk from multiple herds, have also shaped the patterns. On the scale of an entire country, there appear to be few barriers to rapid, frequent and large-scale dissemination of the ST20 subgenotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMicrobial genomics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • CanSNP
  • Coxiella burnetii
  • Dairy cattle
  • Genotyping
  • Phylogeography
  • Q fever
  • SNP typing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Epidemiology


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