Q-Fever

Q-Fever first appeared in Australia during the 1930s when workers at a Brisbane meat processing plant became ill with a fever.

As the cause of the illness was unknown, the workers were diagnosed with ‘Query’ fever – eventually abbreviated to Q-fever. Outbreaks of the illness have occurred in every Australian state and territory. It is also prevalent worldwide, except for some areas of Europe and New Zealand.

Sheep shearers can obtain protection from Q-fever, thanks to a screening and vaccination program available to NSW livestock industry workers. Until the end of 2003, they will receive Q-fever vaccine free of charge and can also claim $60 to cover the cost of the medical consultations involved.

How do you get Q-fever?

The organism that causes Q-fever in humans exists, without symptoms, in a variety of domestic and wild animals. It is a particularly hardy organism that can survive in dust or soil for many months. Infection usually occurs through inhalation. Infection can also occur through skin abrasions or splashes of infected material into the eye.

What are the symptoms of Q-fever?

The symptoms of Q-fever are similar to an acute attack of the flu. Around twenty percent of cases go on to develop a chronic debilitating illness marked by extreme fatigue. In a small number of Q-fever cases, serious liver and cardiac complications arise.

Getting vaccinated

This Commonwealth-funded scheme is available to all sheep shearers currently working in the shearing industry in NSW. However, subsidized screening and the free vaccine are available only from doctors who have undertaken Q-fever immunization training.

Q-fever vaccinations require two visits to the doctor. The first is to undergo a skin and blood test. This helps identify people who have been previously exposed to Q-fever, and reduces the chance that they will suffer side effects from the vaccine.
The skin test takes one week to complete, and only then, if both skin and blood tests are negative, can you be vaccinated. It then takes another two weeks to develop immunity. That is when you can go back to work confident that you are protected from Q-fever.

To find out more about the National Q-fever Management Program 2000-2003 or the doctor nearest to you who can immunize you, contact your local Public Health Unit.

Useful Information

A Literature Review, Q-Fever, Diagnosis and Control, Kath Evans 1997

A Study to Measure Implementation of the Q-Vac, Kath Evans 1997

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