This bacterium can be carried by a variety of domestic and wild animals, especially cattle, sheep, goats, bandicoots, kangaroos and wallabies. Clinical disease is not common in domestic livestock but animals are a source of infection for people.
|Where the disease occurs|
The disease occurs in most parts of the world and throughout Queensland. It has not been detected in New Zealand.
|The disease in animals|
Coxiella burnetii can cause abortion in sheep and goats and rarely in cattle. The organism is present in high concentrations in the placenta, foetal fluids, urine and faeces of infected animals. While Q fever has significant implications for human health, control strategies in livestock are not usually required.
|How people can get the disease|
About half of Australian cases of Q fever occur in Queensland, with around nine people affected each year per 100,000 population. This can be as high as 200 per 100,000 people in some rural shires. Q fever is one of the most common diseases that humans contract from animals.
Q fever can spread from animals to people by the inhalation of infective material from placental tissues and fluids. Human infection can also occur through the ingestion of un-pasteurised milk and by contact with infected animals, their waste products, or contaminated straw, wool, hair and hides. The bacterium resists drying and can live in dust for many months. It has been spread up to one kilometre by the wind. Ticks may also spread it between animals, but rarely, if ever, spread to people.
Animal handlers, farmers, veterinarians, abattoir workers, meat inspectors and biological researchers working with pregnant animals are most at risk. Goats are probably the greatest risk to people.
Those most at risk include:
Not all people infected with C. burnetii show signs of clinical illness. In acute cases, it produces a sudden, severe flu-like illness. Symptoms can include; high fevers, chills, severe headache, muscle and joint pain and extreme fatigue. Approximately one third of people develop a chronic form of Q fever. These people may be hospitalised due to endocarditis (inflammation of the heart). People with a pre-existing heart valve condition are at an increased risk. Deaths are rare. Between 10 and 20% of people have prolonged fatigue and, in a few cases, this is severe enough to prevent people working for the rest of their lives.
|Treatments for people|
People with Q fever are treated with appropriate antibiotics and may be admitted to hospital.
|Preventing the disease in people|
Last updated 27 September 2012