Molecular methods are used to characterize strains and to determine relationships between isolates causing disease. In the case of Q fever, MLVA and MST techniques have been incorporated for genotyping of C. burnetii strains since both techniques can be performed directly on clinical and environmental samples without previous cultivation of bacteria [11, 16]. In the current study MLVA typing has been performed based on 6 loci on 45 C. burnetii-positive samples to study the genetic background of this bacterium in domestic ruminants in Spain.
MLVA typing revealed a substantial genetic diversity among C. burnetii from domestic ruminants in Northern Spain as shown in the minimum spanning tree, with 11 distinct genotypes being identified. None of the MLVA profiles found here were similar to the profiles identified in the Q fever outbreak episodes in The Netherlands  or Poland . The MLVA genotypes (I, J, M, S and T) described in the current study have been found before, indicating a wide dissemination of the described MLVA genotypes throughout Europe. MLVA genotypes I, J and M have been found in cattle milk from France, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland , and have also been incidentally found in 8 human clinical samples (placenta and heart valve) from France, according to an in-house database containing 61 different C. burnetii MLVA genotypes from 231 human, caprine, ovine and cattle clinical samples and cows milk obtained from Canada, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovak Republic, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and USA. Moreover, MLVA genotypes S and T have also been incidentally found in 8 human clinical samples (blood and valve) from France and Portugal and in 6 ruminant samples (goat and sheep) from Portugal .
In addition, 6 new MLVA profiles were identified (Z and AA in sheep, AE in goats, and AB, AC, and AD in cattle) which so far have not been detected in human or animal samples. However, some of these new genotypes differ in only one marker from other previously defined and may represent microvariants of the founder genotype.
Interestingly, variations in MLVA genotypes were observed throughout consecutive reproductive seasons in some sheep farms. This was the case on Farm Sh2, where genotypes detected in air samples were different from those detected in aborted ewes. This also happened in farms Sh4 and Sh5, where partial genotypes in environmental or animal samples were different. Typing data provided important epidemiological information about the sources of infection, and explained previous observations when C. burnetii appeared in environmental surfaces while no animal shedders were present in the sheep flocks .
Since several C. burnetii genotypes can be present on a farm, BTM samples might be contaminated with several different genotypes. However, apart from one sample (from farm DC10) that could not be typed, clean chromatograms were obtained by MST in all BTM samples tested in this study, suggesting the presence of only one genotype per BTM sample. This was also supported by the MLVA results.
Looking at MLVA genotyping results on individual milk samples, apart from one sample from farm DC2, only one genotype was detected per individual milk sample and per farm, as shown in farms DC1 and DC3. In the sample from farm DC2 (Bizkaia region), more than one allele per locus was observed, suggesting the presence of at least two or more different MLVA genotypes. In addition, the presence of highly similar C. burnetii genotypes (I, J, M, AB and AC) in cattle milk may indicate a widespread dissemination of a specific cattle-adapted strain, as previously reported .
MLVA typing has shown to be less laborious and more discriminatory than MST . However, MST has the advantage of using standardized nomenclature, and having databases that allow easy comparison of results between laboratories and studies. It is interesting that the MST genotype involved in the human Q fever outbreak in The Netherlands (MST33), linked to goats and sheep and found also in Germany and France , was not detected in the present study. However, the most common genotype (MST13), which was identified in the three ruminant species in Spain, had been identified before in human Q fever cases in France, and recently in Portugal . Other MST genotypes detected in this study, had also been previously reported. MST8, detected here in goats and probably present in sheep (partial profile), has been found before in human samples and in one ovine sample from Spain, France and USA, and in human Q fever chronic cases from Portugal . MST18, found only on 1 goat farm was isolated before from human and animal (sheep and goats) clinical samples in France, Italy, Romania, Greece, Slovak Republic and Germany according to the MST database (http://ifr48.timone.univ-mrs.fr/MST_Coxiella/mst/). Finally, MST20, found here in cattle, had been identified in animal and human clinical samples from France, Germany, Netherlands and USA [16, 17]. Human isolates need to be genotyped with the same techniques used here on animal samples to identify the most important animal source for human Q fever infection in this Spanish region. The only genotyping study carried out in Spain, used PCR and RLB hybridization to determine the presence/absence of 8 ORFs in order to compare C. burnetii isolates from domestic ruminants (n = 29) and human cases (n = 24). The authors identified some related genomic groups in C. burnetii isolated from humans, sheep and goats, but not from cattle . This is in agreement with the results obtained in The Netherlands, where prevalence of C. burnetii DNA in dairy cattle is high  but MLVA and MST genotypes detected in cattle are different from those involved in the human Q fever outbreak [12–14, 17].