31 August 2018
NSW Health is urging people in regional and rural NSW, particularly parents, to take extra precautions against Q fever as drought and windy conditions may raise the risk of the disease in these areas.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases NSW Health, said people can be infected if they inhale dust containing dried animal secretions, which can be spread by winds.

“Q fever is a bacterial infection carried by cattle, goats, sheep and other domesticated and wild animals, so people who work on the land are most at risk,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“In these current dry, windy conditions, we’re reminding people, particularly parents, to take steps to protect themselves and their children if they are out with mum and dad helping to feed stock.

“It is important people wear personal protective equipment, such as a properly fitting face mask which can be purchased from hardwares or pharmacies, and that they thoroughly wash their hands.”

Q fever symptoms often appear like a very severe flu, and include high fevers and chills, severe sweats, severe headaches, muscle and joint pains and extreme fatigue. Chronic lethargy can remain for months afterwards.

Dr Sheppeard 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 vaccine is not recommended for those aged under 15 at this stage, so it is very important parents make their children wear protective clothing and equipment.

“For those over 15, skin and blood tests are required before vaccination to make sure there is no previous exposure to Q fever bacteria.”

The number of annual cases in NSW has ranged from 181 to 263 in the last five years, with the highest number in 2015, which was another dry year. Q fever cases mostly occur in the north and west regions, affecting men aged 40 years and over.

The NSW Government has invested $475,000 to help protect farmers and other people in rural areas who work with animals. This includes $275,000 for a Q fever education campaign and $200,000 for research into an improved vaccine for the bacterial infection.

NSW Health has partnered with the NSW Farmers’ Association and Country Women’s Association to raise awareness of Q fever. NSW Health has created a GP education module through the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine to help GPs recognise and prevent Q fever. More than 318 GPs have already enrolled in this module, and NSW Health has subsidised it so that all NSW GPs can access it for free.

In addition to vaccination, 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 (ideally, a respirator available from hardware stores or pharmacies) when handling or disposing of animal products or when mowing or gardening in areas with livestock or native animals
  • Covering wounds with waterproof dressings and wearing thick gloves when handling or disposing of animal products
  • Wearing dedicated protective clothing such as coveralls when working with high risk animals, animal tissues or animal products
  • Removing and washing dirty clothing, coveralls, boots and equipment in outdoor wash areas to prevent exposing to other household residents
  • Washing animal urine, faeces, blood and other body fluids from equipment and surfaces and properly dispose of animal tissues including birth by-products.

 For more information on Q fever, see the NSW Health website at: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/qfever.aspx.