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Q fever – A raised awareness of disease and preventative vaccination

Nik Cronin, District veterinarian - Forbes

Recently ABC television aired a report on Q fever in Australia titled The Quiet Curse. It provided a very thorough overview about how this potentially very serious disease has significantly affected the lives of a number of everyday Australians.

It appears to have been very successful in terms of raising awareness about Q fever. Since then, the preventative vaccine manufacturer CSL has reported an almost 10% rise in demand for the vaccine product.

The Quiet Curse raised some really important issues about Q fever. It showed everyday rural people being infected with the disease by doing everyday rural things – the producer handling a newborn calf, the shearer on the job, the farmer mustering feral goats, the news reporter visiting the local saleyard.

And it showed the range of effects Q fever can have:

  • the acute illness requiring hospitalization
  • the debilitating Post Q fever Fatigue Syndrome with muscle/joint pain and headaches
  • life-threatening failure of the heart valves
  • nasty bone infections.

And it is also talked about the fact that there is an excellent preventative vaccination available.

The preventative vaccine for Q fever has been commercially available in Australia since 1989. Early use of the vaccine was initially poor until work, health and safety development in large abattoirs implemented vaccination programs in 1994.

Uptake in the meat industries has been ongoing – they are now seen as 'engaged' in Q fever prevention with these programs continuing on, however the same cannot be said of the more fragmented agricultural industries.

Awareness of the disease has been found to be an important reason that at risk people are not vaccinated, hopefully the Landline report has gone some way to improving this. However other important reasons people are not vaccinated include access to the service and cost.

Not all doctors routinely provide vaccination so this is more likely to affect people in rural and remote areas who may have to travel to larger town centres.

In addition vaccination requires two visits seven days apart (the first for testing and the second for administration of the vaccine), with this potential time away from work a likely further disincentive.

The vaccine cost is variable from approximately $130 upward.

So it sounds easy to put off being vaccinated against Q fever… However if you work with livestock, in particular with pregnant livestock, then you are at a high risk for exposure to the disease.

It is true infection with Q fever can be mild, or just like a nasty dose of the flu. But as The Quiet Curse showed us, it can also be much more significant requiring medical treatment, hospitalization and the potentially real risk of serious and life changing ongoing complications like Post Q fever Fatigue Syndrome or endocarditis.

Have the discussion with your GP, consider vaccination, and the costs of not…