Q fever is the most commonly reported zoonotic disease in Australia*, caused by a bacteria called Coxiella burnetiid carried mainly by livestock including cows, sheep and goats. Queensland has the most reported cases with approximately 220 per year since 2016. The Queensland government suspect that these figures are actually much higher due to under reporting cases and misdiagnosis.
The main way to protect workers is to be vaccinated, if this isn’t possible, or hasn’t taken place yet, the worker should be provided with properly fitted respiratory protection and be trained in the proper use and fit. The minimum level of respiratory protection is a fit-tested half facepiece respirator with a P2 filter.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) is campaigning to raise awareness of the disease and how it is transmitted. Q fever is a potentially serious disease and can cause acute and chronic illness. The campaign aims to help industry improve its knowledge and the way it manages the risk of exposure to Q fever.
What are the health effects of Q fever?
Thankfully, most people who contract Q fever only suffer mild symptoms which is often mistaken for a common cold or flu. However, some people can become acutely ill by developing influenza and if severe enough will have to be admitted to hospital.
This can lead to some people developing even more serious chest infections such as pneumonia or inflammation of the liver (hepatitis). The recovery time from any of these effects can be lengthy depending on the individual’s overall health.
Which industries are most at risk from Q fever?
People who work with animals and animal products and waste are at risk of being infected with Q fever, 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 for Q fever.
Typical at-risk workers include:
What prevention and control measures can be implemented?
Q fever vaccination is the most important way to protect workers against infection. This requires pre-vaccination screening to exclude workers who have previously been infected with or vaccinated against Q fever, as they are at an increased risk for a severe vaccine reaction.
New workers to a business should undergo Q fever screening and vaccination before starting work. If this is not possible, they should undergo screening and vaccination as soon as possible after starting work and work in lower risk areas until they are known to be immune.
If they need to enter higher risk areas, they should wear a suitable respirator as a short-term control measure and be properly trained in its proper use and fit. The minimum level of respiratory protection is a fit tested (PDF, 0.86 MB) half facepiece respirator with a P2 filter.
You can get more information on AES’ fit-testing equipment here, or alternatively get in contact if you are looking for a professional to conduct your fit test and we can help point you in the right direction of a qualified Occupational Hygienist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on +61 3 9464 2300.
*Information referenced from www.worksafe.qld.gov.au