What is Q Fever?
Q Fever is a disease often mentioned in relation to human meat workers, livestock workers and veterinarians. In this article, we will explain exactly what Q Fever is, what signs to look out for and how it can be treated and prevented.
What is Q Fever?
Q Fever is a disease that rarely causes illness in animals but does cause illness in people. Q Fever is an abbreviation of Query Fever and the disease was first reported in a meat processing plant in Brisbane around 1935.
Workers began developing flu-like symptoms, but the underlying cause could not be identified, hence the name Query or Q-Fever. Eventually the cause of the fever was identified as a bacteria called Coxiella Burnetti and it has been documented in most countries around the world.
How is Q Fever transmitted?
The bacteria Coxiella Burnetti can be found in both wild and domestic animal populations in Australia. It is difficult to eliminate because it is very resistant to environmental conditions such as temperature and sunlight. The bacteria can also infect ticks, which in turn transmit the infection to the animals they feed on.
These include native animals (such as kangaroos and rodents), feral pigs, rabbits, camels, feral dogs and cats. Domestic animals (and their ticks) living in close proximity to wild animals or a contaminated environment can also easily become infected.
Infected animals do not generally show any signs of illness, but the bacteria can be found in high amounts in their urine, faeces, milk, blood and especially in the placenta and birthing fluid. These in turn can contaminate the environment, where bacteria may be found in soil, dust, grass or even on the animal’s fleece or coat. The bacteria are very infectious when they become ‘aerosolised’ (transmitted by air) with droplets or infected dust able to easily cause disease in people or nearby uninfected animals.
What signs does Q Fever cause?
Q Fever causes a range of symptoms, some of which are similar to those seen with a severe flu, including:
- High fever and chills
- Muscle and joint aches
- Severe lethargy and fatigue
- Inflammation of the liver (hepatitis)
More chronic forms of the disease have also been reported and include inflammation of the heart muscle (endocarditis) and chronic fatigue.
Who is at risk of developing Q Fever?
Unfortunately, anyone exposed to the aforementioned infected animal fluids/products or a contaminated environment is at risk of contracting Q Fever. However, the following occupations are particularly high risk:
- Abattoir and meat workers
- Veterinarians and veterinary nurses, assistants or students
- Wildlife workers
- Wool classers, animal hide processors, shearers
- Livestock and farm workers
- People in close contact with high risk workers (e.g. those washing infected clothing)
How is Q Fever treated and can it be prevented?
Generally, Q Fever is treated effectively with the appropriate antibiotics. There is also an effective vaccination, which is highly recommended for high risk workers. Other procedures which may reduce the risk of infection by Q Fever include:
- Practising good hygiene protocols, including handwashing after any animal or animal product handling
- Wearing a well fitted P2 mask in high risk environments
- Reducing contamination of animal urine and faeces on equipment and work surfaces when possible
If you are concerned that you may have any of the symptoms of Q Fever, please contact your local general practitioner or visit your State Government website.