Q fever is a disease that is spread to humans from animals, mainly infected cattle, sheep, goats. It can cause a severe flu-like illness. People who live, work on or visit a livestock farm are at risk. Vaccination is the best way to prevent infection. Everyone living or working on a livestock farm should talk to their doctor about Q fever vaccination. There are also practices on the farm that can reduce the risk of infection
Q fever is a disease caused by bacteria that are spread to humans from animals. Infection can cause severe illness and for some people, Q fever can affect their health and ability to work for many years. Q fever is commonly found in livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) in Australia but other animals including domestic and feral dogs and cats, feral pigs, horses, rabbits, rodents, alpacas, camels, llamas, foxes, Australian native wildlife (notably kangaroos, wallabies and bandicoots), some birds and several species of ticks can also spread the bacteria to humans.
Anyone who works or lives on a livestock farm is at risk of infection. In NSW, most Q fever infections occur in farmers. Infections have also been reported in other agriculture-related occupations including shearers, stockyard workers and livestock transporters. People who live on/near or visit (including tradespeople, fencers, labour hire workers and guests) a livestock farm are also at risk even if they do not handle animals.
The bacteria are found in the placenta and birth fluids (in very high numbers), urine, faeces, milk and blood of infected animals. The bacteria can spread to infect animal products, materials, air, soil and dust. The bacteria can survive in the soil and dust for years and can be spread over several kilometres by the wind.
On a farm, you can get infected with Q fever by:
The Q fever vaccine is the most effective way to prevent infection and is recommended for anyone working or living on a farm aged 15 years and older.
If you are not protected against Q fever (by vaccination or past infection) you should:
Encourage your household to get the Q fever vaccine. To protect those who are not immune you should:
Farm owners have obligations under work health and safety legislation to protect farm workers. All farm workers should be offered the Q fever vaccine. However, some individuals (such those who cannot be vaccinated or unvaccinated irregular visitors) may not be protected against Q fever infection.
The following measures can reduce the risk of Q fever on the farm but are not a substitute for vaccination.
Q fever usually causes a flu-like illness which can be severe. If you experience high fevers and chills, severe ‘drenching’ sweats, painful headaches or extreme tiredness you should see a doctor as soon as sickness begins and let them know if you have recently been on a livestock farm. Early treatment with antibiotics can get you better sooner and reduce your chance of long- term complications.
If you are diagnosed by your doctor with Q fever, you should tell your employer. They are required to provide a safe workplace, which includes controlling for the risk of Q fever. They must notify SafeWork NSW about Q fever infections in employees which may have been acquired in their workplace.
Animals that are infected usually do not appear to be sick. Rarely, Q fever infection in animals can cause abortions (particularly in goats), stillbirth, infertility or pneumonia. A sharp increase in the number of abortions in your animals may be a sign that Q fever is on your farm. Contact your vet if your flock or herd is experiencing fertility problems.
See related factsheets Q Fever, Q Fever Vaccination and Q fever for Veterinary Staff.
For further information on Q fever control on farms including employer responsibilities see the SafeWork NSW Q fever advice or contact SafeWork NSW on 13 10 50.
For other information please call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.