Are you at risk of Q fever?

Rachel Gordon, Livestock Biosecurity Network , 13/03/2017

Rachel Gordon, Livestock Biosecurity Network Biosecurity & Extension Manager.

Q fever has been in the news lately, with an increase in reported cases in most states across Australia. There has been more cases reported in the last two years than in any year since the National Q Fever Management Program ended, over 10 years ago.

So what is Q fever and why is it important?

Q fever is a zoonotic disease originally recognised in Australia in the 1930s. The term ‘Q fever’ is a shortened version of ‘Query fever’, because the cause was unknown. We now know that Q fever is caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii, and exists worldwide.

Many types of animals can be infected with C. burnetii. Sheep, goats, and cattle are the main sources of infection for humans, but other animals including cats, dogs, and kangaroos can be infected. It has even been detected in fur seals.

The C. burnetii bacteria is highly infectious, and survives in air, soil, dust, and water. It can also be carried on items such as clothing, wool, hides, and straw. Placental tissue and fluids from infected animals contain high numbers of C. burnetii, and this is one of the ways it enters the environment. It is also shed in milk, urine, and faeces. Humans usually acquire Q fever through inhalation, either infected aerosols or dust, or by being near infected animals as they give birth.

Clinical symptoms of Q fever in humans vary, but in Australia these symptoms include a high fever, muscle and joint pain, severe headache, and fatigue. These symptoms are similar to other infections such as influenza, and as such Q fever can often be misdiagnosed.

The severity of the illness varies, from showing little to no symptoms through to requiring several weeks rest. It is also possible to develop chronic Q fever. There is also a condition known as Post Q fever Fatigue Syndrome, which has been known to develop in people who have suffered an acute case of Q fever.

Those most at risk are people who work with meat and livestock, including abattoir workers, shearers, producers, and vets. There are cases of people becoming infected by being in the vicinity of saleyards, farms, and feedlots, and other areas where livestock congregate. In addition, there have been instances where gardeners may have contracted the disease from animal droppings, including kangaroos.

There is a vaccine available in Australia to help protect people at risk against Q fever. Vaccination for Q fever involves two visits to the doctor, with an initial blood test and skin test and vaccination a week later if both tests are negative. These tests are necessary, as a person who has already had Q fever can develop severe side effects from the vaccination.

Those that are vaccinated may develop minor side effects include a sore arm, headache, fever, and a general feeling of being unwell. The Q fever vaccine is currently not recommended for children under the age of 15. Be aware of the risk Q fever poses to unvaccinated children if they are with you while you are assisting with a difficult lambing or calving.

As well as utilising the available vaccine, people can reduce the risk of Q fever through:

  • washing hands and arms thoroughly in soapy water after coming into contact with animals
  • minimising dust in yards, and areas where animals are housed or slaughtered
  • using protective outerwear, and removing it prior to coming into your home.

Q fever is a serious zoonotic disease. All of us who work with or around livestock and other animals need to be aware of Q fever, and take the necessary steps to protect ourselves.

To bolster biosecurity on your farm, download the free FarmBiosecurity app.

  • Rachel Gordon is one of LBN’s Biosecurity & Extension Managers. She can be contacted on 0488 400 207 or email



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  1. Natasha Wing, 14/03/2017

    For anyone reading this, if you could potentially be exposed and haven’t been tested / vaccinated, PLEASE do so. If a farmer tat has been pulling calves for over 50 years can get this, so can you.
    The above statement about Q-Fever may result in several weeks rest is drastically understated, this indicates would could just feel a bit unwell. It doesn’t suggest that you may struggle to even be able to drag yourself from your bed to the bathroom. For such a simple test, it is not worth the risk of ignoring it!

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