Q fever is caused by a micro-organism that is mainly carried by cattle, sheep and goats. It can also be carried by some wild animals (including kangaroos and bandicoots).
The bacteria can survive many disinfectants and harsh conditions. It may remain in the environment for long periods of time, which means that dust, hay and other small particles may also carry the micro-organism.
Infection usually occurs following inhalation of contaminated aerosols or dust. Windborne spread of contaminated dust can disperse the organism over several kilometres.
In Victoria, Q fever is a notifiable condition under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act (2008).
The onset of Q fever infection is usually acute and characterised by flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, sweats, severe headache (especially behind the eyes), weakness, anorexia, myalgia, cough and pneumonia. Symptoms can last up to two weeks. Abnormal liver function tests are common, while transient mild rashes are rare.
However, approximately 60 per cent of cases are asymptomatic in the acute phase. Chronic complications can include osteoarticular infections, vascular infections and endocarditis which can occur months, even years, after the acute illness.
People at high risk of Q fever include:
- Abattoir workers
- Farmers, stockyard workers and shearers
- Animal transporters, veterinarians (including nurses and students)
- Professional dog and cat breeders
- Agricultural college staff and students, wildlife and zoo workers, animal refuge workers and laboratory workers
- People who work or live in an area where there are high risk occupations
People presenting with symptoms clinically compatible with Q fever and who either work in a high-risk occupation or who live/work in an area where there are high risk occupations should be tested for Q fever.
Better Health Channel factsheet on Q fever
Worksafe Victoria guidance note for prevention of Q fever in at-risk occupations
By Department of Health and Human Services Victoria.
Disclaimer: This article was provided by Department of Health and Human Services Victoria. While every effort has been made to ensure the information is accurate, North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network does not warrant or represent the accuracy, currency and completeness of any information or material included within.