Q Fever is a highly infectious, zoonotic disease that is carried by animals and passed to humans. People who work with livestock are at highest risk of the disease. There is now a vaccine available.
Q Fever is highly infectious and very hardy – it can survive in dust or soil for a year or more, and can travel in dust for long distances in the wind. Animals that breathe the dust become infected – cattle, sheep, goats (particularly feral or wild goats), as well as domestic dogs, cats and native animals including kangaroos and bandicoots.
Humans can pick up the bacteria when they come into contact with these materials, or something contaminated by them like wool, hair or hides.
Those most at risk are abattoir workers, sheep shearers and farmers. But anyone who comes into contact with animals can be infected.
Q fever has an incubation period of one to four weeks – it can take up to four weeks between exposure and the first symptoms. It, usually starts with a sudden high fever with muscle pain and severe headache symptoms – similar to influenza. There may be chills, sweats, cough, muscle pains and fatigue. These symptoms usually last seven to 10 days and the person recovers completely – though recovery may take longer in older people.
After a person recovers from Q Fever, they are usually immune for life and can’t be infected again. Some people are exposed to Q fever and don’t develop the disease (about half who are infected by it), and these people get immunity to it as well.
The diagnosis of Q fever is made by taking a blood test. People who have been exposed to Coxiella burnetii develop antibodies to the organism in their blood which is picked by the blood test and confirms the diagnosis.
Fortunately, Q fever responds rapidly to treatment with antibiotics. Chronic Q fever is more difficult to treat.
For people working with infected animals, it’s almost impossible to avoid exposure. So the focus is on preventing the disease. Fortunately, there’s an effective vaccine available, called Q-vax. Giving you protection within two weeks of being injected and protection is long lasting. It’s recommended for everyone likely to come into contact with infected animals.
It’s most important to know before being immunised if a person has immunity or not. If they’ve been exposed in the past, they will already have immunity to C. burnetii. and don’t need to be vaccinated.
People who are already immune can have severe reactions if given the vaccine, so they need to know their status before they get the shot. Vaccination isn’t usually given to children under 16 years.
All workplaces at risk of Q fever infection should offer vaccination to employees and contractors. They should also deny entry to those who haven’t been vaccinated unless they can be shown to have immunity. Workplaces should adopt safe work practices: they should provide good ventilation, implement good hygiene practices such as safe handling and disposal of animals, carcasses, offal and hides, and safe handling of pregnant animals. Placental and other birth material should be burnt or buried.
More information can be gained from the following websites: