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Q fever is a bacterial infection that can cause a severe flu-like illness. For some people, it can affect their health and ability to work for many years. The bacteria are spread from animals, mainly cattle, sheep and goats. Even people who do not have contact with animals may be infected.




This notifiable infection is caused by a type of bacterium called Coxiella Burnetii which can be carried by both feral and domestic animals and their ticks.



How Does it Spread?

How is Q Fever Spread

The bacterium is transmitted to humans by direct and indirect contact with infected animals, animal products or contaminated material. It is mainly spread from animals to humans via inhalation of infected particles in the air such as contaminated dust or contact with contaminated milk, meat, wool and particularly birthing products. The bacterium is extremely virulent and sustainable and a single organism can cause an infection.

The bacterium can infect wild and domestic animals, and their ticks. Ticks can transfer the pathogenic agent to other animals.

Cattle, sheep and goats are the main sources of human infection, but certain wildlife (e.g. kangaroos), feral and domestic animals (e.g. camels, cats and dogs) can also be infected.



The risk factors explained

It causes flu-like symptoms which can include abrupt onset of fever, malaise, profuse perspiration, severe headache, myalgia (muscle pain), joint pain, loss of appetite, upper respiratory problems, dry cough, pleuritic pain, chills, confusion and gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The disease can progress to an atypical pneumonia, which can result in a life-threatening acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Less often, it causes (granulomatous) hepatitis, which may be asymptomatic or becomes symptomatic with malaise, fever, liver enlargement (hepatomegaly) and pain in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen.

The chronic form is virtually identical to inflammation of the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis), which can occur months or decades following the infection. It is usually fatal if untreated.

Post Q Fever Fatigue Syndrome – About 10% of patients who are sick with an acute case go on to suffer from a chronic-fatigue-like illness involving extreme ongoing tiredness and other symptoms which can be very debilitating. This can last for years after the initial virus was contacted.



What is Q Fever in Australia?

It was first recognized as a human disease in Australia in 1935 and in the United States in the early 1940s. The “Q” stands for “query” and was applied at a time when the cause was unknown.



Q Fever statistics Australia

Here are indicative numbers across one state over four years

 Q Fever Australia Statistics



What are Q Fever symptoms in humans?

Many infected people have no or few symptoms. People who do become sick often have a severe flu-like illness. Symptoms begin about 2-3 weeks after coming into contact with the bacteria and typically include:

  • high fevers and chills
  • severe ‘drenching’ sweats • severe headaches, often behind the eyes
  • muscle and joint pains
  • extreme fatigue (tiredness).

Patients may also develop hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) or pneumonia (infection of the lungs). Without treatment, symptoms can last from 2-6 weeks. Illness often results in time off work, lasting from a few days to several weeks. Most people make a full recovery and become immune to repeat infections. Occasionally, people develop chronic infections up to 2 years later which can cause a range of health issues including heart problems (endocarditis). This is more common for pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems or previous heart problems. About 10% of patients who are sick with the acute illness go on to suffer from a chronic-fatigue-like illness which can be very debilitating for years.



Post–Q fever fatigue syndrome

This condition affects 10–15% of patients after acute Q fever. The initial infection may be mild or severe, and patients present with a ‘chronic fatigue-like’ picture. Alcohol intolerance is a commonly reported feature. The only known risk factor for the development is the severity of the initial acute infection.




Fortunately, Australia has a vaccine to protect you.

Q Fever Australia uses the safe and effective (Q-VAX®) vaccine to prevent infection in individuals. The vaccination is highly recommended for people who work or intend to work in high-risk occupations. vaccination is also recommended for everyone aged 15 years and over who has the potential to be exposed during activities outside of work, or in the environments in which they live or visit.

Prior to immunisation, Q Fever Australia will undertake both a blood and skin test (Q-VAX® Skin Test) to ascertain if the individual has previously been exposed – either naturally or by previous vaccination.

The skin test will be interpreted by a Q Fever Australia Doctor seven days after the test is administered. Combined with the blood test results, the Doctor will determine if you are susceptible to the Bacteria and if you need a vaccination.

Note the  vaccination can only be given to individuals 15 years of age and over.



How long does Q Fever vaccination last?

  • Protection by vaccination requires one dose of Q-VAX® Vaccine. Protection lasts for many years.
  • You must not be given Q-VAX® Vaccine more than once.
  • As with all vaccines, 100% protection cannot be guaranteed.
  • However, most people will be protected against Q fever.



Who should get a vaccination?

People who work with animals and animal products and waste are at risk of being infected, especially new workers and visitors to animal-related industries.

Meat workers who work exclusively with pigs and town butchers working with dressed carcasses are not considered to be at an increased risk.

Typical at-risk workers include:

  • abattoir workers, contractors and visitors to abattoirs
  • cattle, sheep and goat farmers and graziers
  • dairy industry workers and those who work with raw milk
  • shearers and wool classers
  • tannery workers
  • kangaroo shooters
  • wild game and camel meat processing workers
  • transporters of livestock, animal products and waste
  • feedlot workers
  • staff and students of agricultural education programs
  • rendering plant workers
  • pet food manufacturing workers
  • wildlife and zoo workers and animal exhibitors
  • laboratory workers handling veterinary specimens or working with Q fever bacteria
  • workers in animal research facilities
  • workers processing animal foetal products for the cosmetics industry
  • veterinarians and veterinary nurses
  • professional dog and cat breeders
  • animal refuge workers
  • taxidermists
  • laundry workers who handle clothing from at risk workplaces
  • gardeners mowing in at-risk environments
  • other people exposed to cattle, sheep, goats, camels, native wildlife, and animal products and waste.

The risk of infection is significant, as:

  • It is very infectious and people can become infected from inhaling just a few bacteria
  • large numbers of bacteria are shed by infected animals
  • the bacteria can survive in the environment for long periods, tolerate harsh conditions and spread in the air.



How long does it take to get over Q Fever?

It is an infection. For most people, it’s a mild infection similar to the flu and can be treated easily.

But for a few people, it can lead to serious health issues such as pneumonia and hepatitis.

A few people develop chronic Q fever, which can resurface months or years later and can cause serious problems such as damage to the heart and other organs. It can also cause serious problems for pregnant women.



Is Q Fever contagious?

It is a bacterial infection that can cause a severe flu-like illness. For some people, it can affect their health and ability to work for many years. The bacteria are spread from animals, mainly cattle, sheep and goats. Even people who do not have contact with animals may be infected.



Q Fever register



Q Fever test kit

The diagnosis relies mainly upon serology, the most commonly used method being the immunofluorescence assay. Serological testing  should always be done for a patient with a febrile illness and negative blood cultures.



Q Fever fact sheets


Q Fever vaccination Medicare

Testing and vaccination requires 2 long (30 minute) appointments 7 days apart with one of our registered doctors. These services are NOT covered by Medicare and private fees apply for all patients.



Q Fever outbreak Australia



How much does Q Fever vaccination cost?


How does Q Fever Spread?

It is mainly spread from animals to humans via inhalation of infected particles in the air.  Other routes of infection include:

  • direct contact with infected animals,
  • contact with infected animal products such as birth products (placenta), milk, urine, faeces, wool and hides,
  • and contact with contaminated material such as soil, grass, straw, and clothes.

Cattle, sheep and goats are the main sources of human infection, but certain native and feral mammals (e.g. kangaroos, bandicoots, rats, horses, camels), as well as domestic animals such as cats and dogs, may also be implicated.

Most infected animals do not show symptoms or get sick. They can shed the bacteria in their urine, faeces, milk, wool and birth products which can subsequently contaminate surrounding material such as aerosols, soil, dust, grass, straw, clothes, hair.  The bacterium is highly infective and resistant, capable of withstanding harsh conditions for long periods of time.