The Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD) is warning people to get vaccinated and take other steps to guard against Q fever, as drought and high winds may increase the risk of the disease spreading.
WNSWLHD Health Protection Manager, Priscilla Stanley, said so far this year there have been 47 confirmed cases of Q fever in the WNSWLHD area. In 2018, there were 41 confirmed cases of the disease in the area.
“Q fever is a serious bacterial infection caused by inhaling dust particles contaminated by infected animal secretions that does not just affect farmers or people who deal with livestock,” Priscilla said.
“The infection is carried by cattle, goats, sheep and other domesticated and wild animals, so people who work on the land are most at risk.
“However, the bacteria can easily be carried on farm tools or work clothes and brought into the family home.”
Nine year old Seth Whiteman contracted Q fever in May this year. Seth, his Mum and step-Dad and four siblings live on a property at Yeoval.
Seth’s Mum, Brooke Ryan, said, “Seth had been helping on the farm, which included being exposed to animal fluids. Some of the other kids were sick too, but Seth wasn’t getting better. He had had high temperatures, was shivering but freezing cold to touch”
“She took him to hospital and the Doctor on duty picked up it might be Q fever”.
“We have been really lucky, Seth bounced back really quickly but I want to urge other farming families with kids working on the farm to be on the lookout for the signs and symptoms. You mightn’t know that your child has Q fever. Go to your doctor and get them tested”. Brooke said.
Priscilla said, “Across Australia there has been an increase in Q fever cases over the past several years and the emergence of the disease in groups who do not regularly work on farms or abattoirs, such as Aboriginal people, itinerant workers and contractors”.
“Q fever symptoms often appear like severe flu, with high fevers and chills, sweating, severe headaches, muscle and joint pains and extreme fatigue. Chronic lethargy can remain for months after treatment.
“A single dose vaccine is recommended for people who work in high risk occupations and anyone over 15 years who has the potential to be exposed to Q fever”. She added
“Q fever occasionally affects children, and as the vaccine is not recommended for those aged under 15, it is very important parents know how to protect children from Q fever,” Priscilla said.
The following steps can protect against Q fever:
• washing hands and arms thoroughly in soapy water after any contact with animals
• wearing a properly fitting mask when handling or disposing of animal products or when mowing or gardening in areas with livestock or native animal droppings
• wearing protective clothing and thick gloves when working with high risk animals or animal products
• removing and washing dirty clothing, coveralls, boots and equipment in outdoor wash areas to prevent exposing other household residents
• washing animal urine, faeces, blood and other body fluids from equipment and surfaces and properly disposing of animal tissues including birth by-products.
The NSW Government is investing around $1 million to help protect farmers and other people in rural areas who work with animals from Q fever.
The NSW Government is working with the NSW Farmers’ Association, the NSW Country Women’s Association, SafeWork NSW, and other primary industry stakeholders to develop and disseminate the Q fever education campaign.
In 2018 NSW Health launched an online learning module to help GPs diagnose Q fever and vaccinate susceptible people. In the first 12 months over 400 GPs enrolled in the course.
For more information on Q fever, go to the NSW Health website