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What is Q Fever?

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Q Fever is a disease that is caused by the bacteria, Coxiella burnetii. This bacterium may cause infection in both animals and humans and is diagnosed via blood tests. There is a 2-3 week incubation period between exposure and onset of symptoms. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
    • Chills and Sweats
    • Confusion
    • Endocarditis
    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • Head and muscle aches
    • Hepatitis
    • Nausea
    • pneumonia
    • Vomiting

Symptoms and the extent of symptoms can vary between those infected from some people experiencing no symptoms to a long-lasting chronic Q fever. Whilst acute Q-fever typically resolves in a few weeks, some people can go on to develop Q-fever fatigue syndrome. This can result in damage to a person’s heart and other organs and pose a serious risk to those pregnant and/or who have weakened immune systems.

How can you get Q – Fever?

The bacterium coxiella burnetii is generally found in stock animals including sheep, cattle, horses and goats. Humans may become infected with the bacterium when inhaling or digesting material containing coxiella burnetii, such as animal faeces, urine, milk, birth products and meat. Soils and dust can harbour the bacterium, particularly if contains animal products such as manure. Unfortunately, the bacterium can remain alive in environments from weeks to months and travel kilometers in the air.

Who is most at risk of developing Q-Fever?

It is rare for the disease to occur in those without direct occupational exposure and instead poses a particular hazard for those handling or otherwise having direct contact with infected animals, infected animal tissues, waste, excretions or tissues, animal products or animal materials that may have been infected including hides, straw, manure, wool, and clothes. Occupations at an increased risk of exposure accordingly include:

  • tannery and knackery workers
  • shearers
  • meat inspectors
  • dairy workers
  • veterinary personnel
  • animal-farm workers
  • agricultural workers
  • abattoirs workers/butchers
  • wildlife/zoo workers
  • stockyard/feed lock workers
  • those involved in the transport of animals or animal products and waste.
  • animal breeders
  • pet food manufactures
  • horticulturists and gardeners

It should also be noted that all workers who enter workplaces in which Q fever may be present are also at risk – this can include trades people, contractors, Labour hire workers, office staff and even inspectors and buyers.

How to reduce your risk of exposure to Coxiella Burnetii?

In places of work where there is an increased risk of exposure to coxeilla burnetii, preventative measures can include:

  • Q fever pre-screening
  • Q fever vaccine (Q-VAX®). Q fever vaccine is recommended for people aged ≥15 years who are at risk of infection with C. burnetiid and to occur before they start working at the workplace.
  • For those persons who are ineligible to take the Q Fever vaccine, only allowing them access to the low risk Q fever work areas
  • Appropriate personal hygiene procedures and appropriate washing and changing facilities
  • Respiratory protection (fitted P2 mask)
  • Appropriate personal protective clothing. Such equipment can include disposable, or on-site laundered jumpsuits, coveralls or dedicated footwear.
  • Frequent changing of clothes before leaving work and showering can similarly assist in containing the disease.
  • Minimising dust and aerosols in slaughter and animal housing areas.
  • Appropriate ventilation and dust suppression systems to reduce dust and other airborne particles
  • The washing and/or otherwise immediate removal of animal urine, faeces, blood and other body fluids and material including birthing substances from equipment and surfaces where possible.
  • Appropriate treatment, storage and storage of animal manure
  • Provision of appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision about Q-Fever
  • Prohibit eating, drinking and smoking in high risk areas

It is important that all members of work sectors vulnerable to developing Q Fever be cognizant of not only the inherent risks involved but are aware of implementing and adhering to all relevant safety precautions.

What do to if you are exposed to coxeilla burnetii in your work environment?

If you, or someone you know has been working in an occupation susceptible to Q fever and manifests symptoms of illness, it is recommended that the person consult with a GP or specialist to discern whether such symptoms are attributable to a prior exposure incident, or from the nature of their employment. A blood test may be required. It is imperative that an occupational history is provided during consultation and should there exist any doubt regarding the adequacy of your reported symptoms, seeking a second opinion or diagnostic testing is suggested.

If you are diagnosed with Q Fever, it is a  nationally notifiable disease and must be notified by medical practitioners and pathology services in writing within 5 days of diagnosis.

How can we assist you?

A past or current worker diagnosed with an occupational disease including Q Fever may be entitled to a WorkCover compensation and/or may be able to access benefits through their superannuation.

At Zaparas lawyers, our team of occupational disease experts witness first hand the effects of such conditions daily, giving us the experience to properly understand how traumatic the effects of such a condition can be to not just the person affected, but their family and friends. We see the vast effects of work injuries continuously and recognise the troubles of navigating a tricky process to start your road of recovery.

If you have been diagnosed with a disease or are investigating your symptoms that you think may be as a result of your occupation, contact us for an obligation free telephone appointment, to speak with an occupational disease WorkCover lawyer who can advise you on your entitlements and prospects in pursuing WorkCover compensation.