Q Fever cases have risen during times of drought

Reports suggest a recent spate of cases of Q Fever in rural areas likely comes from closer human exposure to livestock during times of drought.

This is according to Local Land Services District Veterinarian Dr Erica Kennedy, who is encouraging farmers to get tested and vaccinated (Pro-MED 2018).

So what is Q Fever?

Q fever is an infection caused by a type of bacterium, not a virus, called Coxiella burnetii.

The infection is almost always related to direct or indirect contact with animals such as cattle, sheep or goats, although a wide range of animals including domesticated and wild animals, may carry the infection.

How Q fever is spread

The bacteria pass into milk, urine and faeces of infected animals and during birthing, large numbers of organisms are shed in the birth products.

Q fever organisms are resistant to heat, drying and many common disinfectants, allowing them to survive for long periods in eethe environment.

Infection of humans usually occurs by inhalation of the bacteria in air carrying dust contaminated by dried placental material, birth fluids, urine or faeces of infected herd animals.

Contaminated clothing, wool, hides or straw may also be a source of infection.

Person-to-person spread is extremely unlikely. Usually, Q fever is an occupational disease of meat workers, farmers and veterinarians (SA Health).

Dr Kennedy said anyone in rural areas should be mindful when handling livestock, particularly birthing fluids, encouraging anyone who has contact with animals to get themselves tested then vaccinated.

“If you’re a producer out here or have anything to do with livestock you should really go and get tested and vaccinated if you haven’t before,” she said. (Pro-MED 2018).


Symptoms often appear like a very severe flu, and include high fevers and chills, severe sweats, severe headaches, muscle aches and extreme fatigue.

Acute symptoms of a flu-like illness usually develop within two-three weeks of exposure, although as many as half of humans infected with C. burnetii do not show symptoms (CDC).

Q Fever Vaccine

Q fever vaccine is available in Australia and is 83 to 100 per cent effective in preventing the disease.

However, the vaccine can only be given to individuals 15 years of age and over.

Seven days prior to immunisation, a blood and a skin test is recommended to see if the individual has previously been exposed to Q Fever – either naturally or by previous vaccination.

Vaccinating those already exposed to Q fever can result in severe reactions.

Q fever vaccination is recommended for:

  • Abattoir workers and contract workers in cattle, sheep dairy and goat abattoirs (but not pig abattoirs)
  • Farmers, stockyard workers and livestock transporters
  • Agricultural college staff and students and wildlife and zoo workers exposed to high risk animals
  • Shearers and wool sorters
  • Veterinarians, veterinary nurses and students
  • Professional dog and cat breeders, tanning and hide workers and laboratory personnel handling veterinary products or working with the organism
  • Others exposed to cattle, camels, sheep, goats and kangaroos or their products

People considering immunisation against Q fever should contact their doctor or an approved Q fever vaccination provider.

Catherine Keil, is a Nurse Practitioner Travel Health and Immunisations, Angaston Medical Centre, South Australia