So far this year, there have been five cases of Q fever in the Shoalhaven.
Q-fever is a bacterial infection most commonly spread to humans by breathing in contaminated air or dust. The main carriers of the disease are farm animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, but kangaroos have also been linked to the spread of the infection.
During periods of drought, kangaroos move to residential areas in search of food, and its becoming increasingly common to see them on suburban streets in the Shoalhaven and South Coast.
While there hasn’t been a significant increase in the number of Q fever cases in the Shoalhaven, people who live and work on the land have been encouraged to get vaccinated against the disease.
“In the last 10 years there has been no significant increase in Q fever within the area, with an average of 11 cases notified each year over that period,” Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District Acting Director Public Health Glendon Lee said.
“People living or working on the land should talk to their GP about getting a vaccination as the illness can affect your entire working life.”
Q fever is a bacteria that doesn't react to standard antibiotics, it presents flu-like symptoms, can damage the liver and the heart, and, if untreated, could lead to long-term fatigue or death.
While people who work in occupations where there is contact with farm animals are at the highest risk, there have been multiple reports of people who work in areas with lots of kangaroo droppings contracting the bacterial infection.
Symptoms of Q fever usually develop two–three weeks after exposure and can include high fevers and chills, severe sweats, severe headaches, often behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain and extreme fatigue.
As kangaroo droppings can carry the disease, extra caution should be taken in situations where the particles can become airborne.
“Practising good hand hygiene after contact with animals or their products and wearing personal protective equipment like gloves and masks when undertaking high risk activities with animals, or when mowing lawns or gardening, can significantly reduce the likelihood of infection,” Ms Lee said.
NSW Health has launched a Q fever online learning module to help GPs recognise the symptoms and diagnose Q fever, to avoid misdiagnosis.
Signs and symptoms
Q fever usually develops two–three weeks after exposure and can include:
- High fevers and chills
- Severe sweats,
- Severe headaches, often behind the eyes
- Muscle and joint pains; and
- Extreme fatigue.
How Q fever is spread
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.