Q-fever outbreak in the Netherlands kills at least nine

A rare disease that normally only strikes farm animals has now infected hundreds of people in the Netherlands who have no contact with farms.

A handful of those infected with Q-fever, a bacterial infection transmitted by livestock, have died, some have been sick for months and most have come down with flu-like symptoms or pneumonia for a few weeks.

"It's always been an occupational disease of farmers, slaughter house personnel and veterinarians," Jos van de Sande, an infectious disease expert at the public health department in the Dutch province of Brabant, told PRI.org.

The number of Q-fever afflicted who have no contact with farms, however, has grown to more than 2,000 last year from only 200 three years ago. At least nine deaths have been reported.

The source of the disease is not known, though there is a chance that the virus mutated or is the result of more nefarious origins.

Q-fever most readily grows in the wombs of pregnant goats, causing them to miscarry. When the goats abort, the Q-fever is then released into the air and can infect people.

The Dutch government, in an attempt to stop the infections, has targeted goat farms.

"They just said pregnant goats give the most risk to contamination," Jeannette Van den Ven told PRI.org. "Let's kill all the pregnant goats, contaminated or not. And that's very hard."

If a goat tests positive for Q-fever, all pregnant goats on the farm must be killed under government order. About 45,000 pregnant goats have been killed nationwide so far.