Health warning: Surge in Q Fever infections in the Far North

HEALTH

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Q Fever is an illness carried by animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and kangaroos.
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Far North Queenslanders who work with animals are being urged to get vaccinated against a bacterial disease carried by animals that has been identified on the Atherton Tablelands.

Cairns Tropical Public Health Services has confirmed 23 recent cases of Q Fever in the region, with most cases in the Mareeba area. Q Fever is an illness caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii, carried by animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and kangaroos.

Symptoms of the disease include: fever and chills; severe sweats; severe headache, especially behind the eyes; muscle pain; weakness and tiredness; and weight loss. People become infected with the bacteria by breathing in droplets or dust contaminated by birth fluids, faeces, or urine from infected animals.

The spread of infection from person-to-person is rare, and the disease can be treated with antibiotics.

Cairns Tropical Public Health Services Public Health Medical Officer Dr Annie Preston-Thomas said there had been more cases than usual, possibly associated with greater numbers of wildlife, close to residential areas.

“The bacteria that cause Q Fever can exist in a variety of domestic and wild animal species such as kangaroos and wallabies,” she said. “It can also persist in the general environment in dust and soil, which can lead to infection and disease. 

“If there are obvious animal droppings, please use a P2 mask - available from hardware stores - to undertake jobs outdoors such as mowing the lawn.

“Wash your hands after coming into contact with all animals or their faeces, especially before eating and drinking.”

Dr Preston-Thomas said people whose work exposed them to animals, animal products, and animal waste were particularly at risk of developing Q Fever. This includes abattoir and meat workers, farmers, veterinarians, animal hunters, wildlife/zoo workers, dog/cat breeders, and other people who work in animal industries.

“There is an effective vaccine available to protect people against Q Fever,” Dr Preston-Thomas said.

“Vaccination is recommended for all people who are working in, or intend to work in, a high-risk occupation.

“High risk workplaces should have a vaccination program to protect their workforce.

“Most people make a full recovery from Q Fever, however in about 10-20 per cent of people, chronic fatigue is still present after 12 months, affecting a person’s ability to work at full capacity.

“People may also develop chronic infections that affect the heart, bones, or joints.”

Anyone experiencing symptoms of Q Fever is urged to contact their local GP, or phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

People must be screened and tested before they are vaccinated against Q Fever. For more information and to check the Australian Q fever Register, head to www.qfever.org to find a doctor specifically trained for Q fever vaccination services.



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