Increase in Q Fever cases in South Australia

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Livestock workers are being reminded to be aware of the health risks of Q Fever following an increase in cases reported in SA during 2016.

This year to date there have already been 27 reported cases of Q Fever in South Australia, compared to 12 at this time last year and nearly triple the total number of cases reported five years ago.

SA Health Chief Medical Officer Professor Paddy Phillips said the infection, which is caused by direct or indirect contact with the bacteria via infected animals, can have serious health implications.

“The main carriers tend to be cattle, sheep or goats, although a wide range of animals including cats, dogs, camels and kangaroos may also carry the infection,” Professor Phillips said.

“Therefore, Q Fever is typically an occupational disease of meat workers, farmers and hobby farmers, kangaroo hunters, shearers and veterinarians.

“Symptoms include a fever which may last for up to four weeks, severe headache, sweats and chills, chest pains when breathing, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

“Some people may also develop pneumonia and inflammation of the liver, while in rare cases serious complications such as endocarditis (infection of the heart valves) can appear years after initial infection.

“Only about half of all infected people will show signs of illness and the onset of symptoms can be sudden, but with an early diagnosis and effective antibiotic therapy, a good outcome can be expected.”

Professor Phillips said while most people recover within several months, 1 to 2 per cent of people who develop acute Q Fever die of the disease.

“It’s a serious reminder for people not to be complacent,” Professor Phillips said.

“Vaccination is recommended for farmers, livestock transporters, workers in abattoirs, agricultural college staff and students, wildlife and zoo workers, shearers and wool sorters, veterinarians, professional dog and cat breeders, tanning and hide workers and laboratory personnel handling veterinary products.

“Q Fever vaccination can only be provided by specially trained and authorised doctors and a list of approved Q Fever vaccine providers can be found on the SA Health website.

“The doctor will take a blood and skin test to see if the individual has previously been exposed to Q Fever – either naturally or by previous vaccination – as vaccinating those already exposed can result in severe reactions.”

Where the vaccine is not provided or funded by the employer, the individual can claim back the financial cost through their tax return.

Q Fever infection occurs when people breathe in bacteria within dust, or come into contact with contaminated clothing, wool, hides or straw. Person to person spread of Q Fever is extremely rare.

The bacteria are resistant to heat, drying and many common disinfectants, which allows them to survive for long periods in the environment.

Q Fever notifications in South Australia over the past five years


2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Total cases 9 10 17 9 12 27


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