Drought may raise risk of Q fever

People inregional and rural NSW are being warned to get vaccinated and take other stepsto guard against Q fever, as drought and high winds may increase the risk ofthe disease spreading.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, NSW Health Director Communicable Diseases, said Qfever is a serious bacterial infection caused by inhaling dust particlescontaminated by infected animal secretions, that does not just affect farmers or people whodeal with livestock.

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

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

So far this year, there have been 141 confirmed cases of Q fever notifiedto NSW Health, with an increase in the number of cases in the Western, Southernand Hunter New England regions. In 2018, there were 224 confirmed cases of Qfever throughout the state.

“This reflects the increase seen across Australia over the past severalyears and the emergence of the disease in groups who do not regularly work onfarms or abattoirs, such as Aboriginal people, itinerant workers andcontractors.”

Q fever symptoms often appear like severe flu, with high fevers andchills, sweating, severe headaches, muscle and joint pains and extreme fatigue.Chronic lethargy can remain for months after treatment.

Dr Sheppeard said a single dose vaccine is recommended for people whowork in high risk occupations and anyone over 15 years who has the potential tobe exposed to Q fever.

“Q fever occasionally affects children, and as the vaccine is notrecommended for those aged under 15, it is very important parents know how toprotect children from Q fever,” she said.

The following steps can protect against Q fever:

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

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

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

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

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

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