Q fever: A little-known horror

COMING TOGETHER: Health and lands service members at a meeting in Bega to discuss Q fever are David Clarke, Konrad Reardon, Peter Alexander, Duncan McKinnon, Lisa Stephenson, Helen Schaefer and Jen Manyweathers.
COMING TOGETHER: Health and lands service members at a meeting in Bega to discuss Q fever are David Clarke, Konrad Reardon, Peter Alexander, Duncan McKinnon, Lisa Stephenson, Helen Schaefer and Jen Manyweathers.

Q fever is a disease some may think is a myth, but can have serious consequences for farmers or others who work with animals. 

Caused by a bacteria that is spread to humans from infected animals, according to NSW Health many infected people have no or few symptoms and those who do become sick often have a severe flu-like illness. 

While most infections last two to six weeks, occasionally people develop chronic infections and it can lead to chronic fatigue or an inflammation of the heart and is sometimes associated with hepatitis or pneumonia.  

In the Bega Valley, seven confirmed cases of Q fever were reported last year, which was 22 per cent of the Murrumbidgee and Southern NSW Local Health Districts’ (LHD) total notifications. In NSW, 262 people were diagnosed with the illness in 2015. 

Recently, a group of medical and land service professionals gathered at the South East Regional Hospital (SERH) to discuss the problem of the disease and to promote awareness of it.   

Murrumbidgee and Southern NSW LHDs surveillance officer Lisa Stephenson said people at risk were farmers, stockyard workers, vets, agriculture staff and students as well as laboratory workers.

The disease can be transmitted from cats, dogs, sheep, goats and cows – Ms Stephenson said there have even been some cases involving kangaroos on the South Coast. 

Infectious diseases and general physician, SERH David Clarke said the fever was not just restricted to the country and still occurred in metropolitan areas. 

“Just because you can’t see cows, it doesn’t mean you can’t get Q fever,” he said. 

A problem was lack of awareness of the disease, Ms Stephenson said, as many have never heard of it. Some farmers believe that because no-one they know has ever got it, they will never get it either. 

“Unless farmers know someone who has Q fever it’s very hard to get them vaccinated,” Ms Stephenson said. 

There is a vaccine to prevent the disease, which is only required once. 

While the total cost for it is around $400, the consensus at the recent meeting at SERH was it was money worth spending because it would cost you much more if you did become infected.  

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