Q Fever fact sheet
What is Q fever?
Q fever is an illness spread from animals to people by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii.
Cattle, sheep and goats are the most common sources of human infection, but other animals such as kangaroos, bandicoots, camels, dogs and cats can also cause infection.
Q fever mainly affects people in jobs such as abattoir workers or farmers, or people living in rural farming areas in certain parts of Australia. Q fever is very rare in Tasmania.
People can catch Q fever by breathing in tiny droplets and dust contaminated by bacteriain birth products, faeces, or urine from infected animals.
What are the symptoms?
People with Q fever often have a flu-like illness with symptoms like fever, headache, tiredness and muscle pains. Symptoms usually begin about two three weeks after breathing in the bacteria; however, this time can be as short as four days and as long as six weeks.
In some people, Q fever causes an infection of the lungs (pneumonia) or the liver (hepatitis). Most people make a full recovery.
Occasionally people may develop long-term infections that affect the heart (endocarditis), bone (osteomyelitis) or joints.
How is it spread?
The Q fever bacteria get into milk, urine, faeces and birth products of infected animals and can contaminate the surrounding environment (eg dust and soil).
People get infected with Q fever by breathing in droplets or dust contaminated with the bacteria.
Q fever may also be spread by direct contact with infected animal tissue or fluids onto broken skin, by drinking unpasteurised milk from an infected animal or after being bitten by an infected tick. Spread of infection from person-to-person is very rare.
Who is at risk?
People who work with animals and animal products and waste are at risk of being infected with Q fever.
Some high-risk occupations include:
- Abattoir and meat workers.
- Agriculture, livestock and dairy farmers and workers.
- Stockyard/feedlot workers and transporters of animals, animal products and waste.
- Shearers, wool classers/sorters, pelt and hide processors.
- Knackery or tannery workers.
- Laundry workers handling clothing from at-risk workplaces Veterinary workers, students and researchers
- Agriculture college staff and students working with high-risk animals.
- Animal shooters/hunters.
- Laboratory staff working with materials containing Coxiella burnetii bacteria.
- Other people exposed to cattle, sheep, goats, camels, native wildlife, and animal products and waste.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose Q fever based on symptoms, clinical examination and laboratory tests. Two or more blood tests on separate days are often needed to confirm a Q fever diagnosis.
How is it treated?
A two-week course of oral antibiotics is generally used to treat acute Q fever. Chronic Q fever requires longer treatment with antibiotics.
How is it prevented?
A Q fever vaccine is available to protect people against the disease. Vaccination is recommended for all people over 15 years of age working in, or intending to work in, a high-risk occupation (see Who is at risk?).
High-risk workplaces should consider a vaccination program to protect their workforce.
People must be screened and tested before they are vaccinated against Q fever. Check the Australian Q fever Register to find a doctor specially trained for Q fever vaccination.
Apart from vaccination, people can take steps to reduce the risk of Q fever, including:
- Wash hands and arms thoroughly in soapy water after any contact with animals.
- Wear a mask (this must be a P2 respirator – available from pharmacies and hardware stores) and gloves when handling and disposing of animal products and waste.
- Remove personal protective equipment and contaminated clothing at the workplace, and bag and wash them on site, to reduce the risk of exposing people outside of the workplace.
- Minimise dust and aerosols in slaughter and animal housing areas.
- Prevent animals from eating placenta, and immediately and safely dispose of animal birth tissues.
- Appropriately treat animal manure: no removal of manure from the deep litter sheds or yards for at least one month after the kidding season; compost manure or store manure for three months before spreading on the land for fertiliser.
- Cover manure during storage and transport and under-plough it immediately when spreading on farming land.
Who should get immunised?
People at risk of Q fever should consider vaccination against Q fever.
What should I do if I have Q fever?
If you think you may have Q fever, please see your General Practitioner and explain your concern about Q fever.
Call the Public Health Hotline – Tasmania on 1800 671 738 to speak to a clinical nurse consultant.