Q fever risk as drought grips state

Q fever risk as drought grips state

Northern NSW Local Health District (LHD) is warning people to get vaccinated and take other steps to guard against Q fever, as drought and dusty conditions may increase the risk of the disease spreading.

Assistant Director of the North Coast Public Health Unit, Greg Bell, said so far this year there have been 16 confirmed cases of Q fever in the Northern NSW area. In 2018 there were 28 confirmed cases of the disease in the area.

Mr Bell said the region typically averages between 25-35 cases each year.

“Q fever is a serious bacterial infection caused by inhaling dust particles contaminated by infected animal secretions that does not just affect farmers or people who deal with livestock,” Mr Bell said.

“The infection is carried by cattle, goats, sheep and other domesticated and wild animals, so people who work on the land are most at risk.

“However, the bacteria can easily be carried on farm tools or work clothes and brought into the family home.”

Mr Bell said across Australia there has been an increase in Q fever cases over the past several years and the emergence of the disease in groups who do not regularly work on farms or abattoirs, such as Aboriginal people, itinerant workers and contractors.

Mr Bell urged residents to be aware of Q fever symptoms, which often appear like severe flu, and which can mean that the infection is under-reported.

“People can experience high fevers and chills, sweating, severe headaches, muscle and joint pains and extreme fatigue,” Mr Bell said.

“Chronic lethargy can remain for months after treatment.”

Mr Bell said a single dose vaccine is recommended for people who work in high risk occupations and anyone over 15 years who has the potential to be exposed to Q fever.

“Q fever occasionally affects children, and as the vaccine is not recommended for those aged under 15, it is very important parents know how to protect children from Q fever.”

The following steps can protect against Q fever:

  • washing hands and arms thoroughly in soapy water after any contact with animals
  • wearing a properly fitting mask when handling or disposing of animal products or when mowing or gardening in areas with livestock or native animal droppings
  • wearing protective clothing and thick gloves when working with high risk animals or animal products
  • removing and washing dirty clothing, coveralls, boots and equipment in outdoor wash areas to prevent exposing other household residents
  • washing animal urine, faeces, blood and other body fluids from equipment and surfaces and properly disposing of animal tissues including birth by-products.

The NSW Government is investing around $1 million to help protect farmers and other people in rural areas who work with animals from Q fever.

The NSW Government is working with the NSW Farmers’ Association, the NSW Country Women’s Association, SafeWork NSW, and other primary industry stakeholders to develop and disseminate the Q fever education campaign.

In 2018 NSW Health launched an online learning module to help GPs diagnose Q fever and vaccinate susceptible people. In the first 12 months over 400 GPs enrolled in the course.

For more information on Q fever, go to the NSW Health website.  



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