Between 2007 and 2009, the largest human Q fever epidemic ever described occurred in the Netherlands. The source was traced back to dairy goat farms, where abortion storms had been observed since 2005. Since one putative cause of these abortion storms is the intensive husbandry systems in which the goats are kept, the objective of this study was to assess whether these could be explained by herd size, reproductive pattern and other demographic aspects of Dutch dairy goat herds alone. We adapted an existing, fully parameterized simulation model for Q fever transmission in French dairy cattle herds to represent the demographics typical for Dutch dairy goat herds. The original model represents the infection dynamics in a herd of 50 dairy cows after introduction of a single infected animal; the adapted model has 770 dairy goats. For a full comparison, herds of 770 cows and 50 goats were also modeled. The effects of herd size and goat versus cattle demographics on the probability of and time to extinction of the infection, environmental bacterial load and abortion rate were studied by simulation. The abortion storms could not be fully explained by demographics alone. Adequate data were lacking at the moment to attribute the difference to characteristics of the pathogen, host, within-herd environment, or a combination thereof. The probability of extinction was higher in goat herds than in cattle herds of the same size. The environmental contamination was highest within cattle herds, which may be taken into account when enlarging cattle farming systems.
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