Victorian health authorities are investigating an outbreak of Q fever at a meat processing plant in Melbourne’s west, where six employees fell ill.
Cases of the flu-like illness have been diagnosed at Vic Wide Meat Brokers and a nearby offal business W J Drever at Laverton North.
Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services said it was investigating the cases with WorkSafe, and is contacting anyone who may have visited the plant since late last year, as well as staff at similar businesses nearby to advise them to get screened, and if required, vaccinated.
Q fever is an infectious disease transmitted by contact with cattle, sheep and goats, or their carcases.
“Both the Department and WorkSafe officials have visited and inspected the premises to check on the vaccination status of other staff, and arrange testing and vaccinations, as required,” said Victoria’s chief health officer, Professor Charles Guest.
“At this stage there is no broader public health issue as our investigation shows all exposures have been confined to the site and have occurred in the workplace.”
The practices which may have contributed to causing illness in staff at the premises have been discontinued, he said.
The symptoms of Q fever include severe headache, weakness, muscle aches and sweats lasting up to three weeks. It can also cause pneumonia and liver inflammation.
Professor Guest said Q fever was caused by the bacterium, Coxiella burnetti, transmitted by contact with cattle, sheep and goats and other animals and is a risk for people who work with these animals or their products, such as abattoir workers and farmers.
A small percentage of people with Q fever infection report on-going fatigue and weakness that may persist for months. In some cases the illness is asymptomatic, with past exposure only becoming evident on skin and blood testing. Q fever is not spread person to person.
WJ Drever, an offal supplier adjoining Vic Wide Meat Brokers, appeared to be the source of the infections, reports said. The workers who fell ill with it probably inhaled steam coming from the plant that had the bacteria in it.
The company had rectified the problem and all material was now being cooked at high temperature to ensure the bacteria was eliminated.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said there was no risk to people eating meat supplied by the businesses.
There is an effective vaccine against Q fever, however it has significant side effects in persons who have already been exposed to the bacteria.