Reported cases of Q fever and Leptospirosis are both higher for 2021 than previous years, with both diseases capable of causing serious illness requiring hospitalisation. It may also leave lasting health effects. So, who is at risk?
Q fever is an infectious disease spread from animals to people by bacteria called Coxiella burnetii. Cattle, sheep and goats are the most common source of human infection, but other animals such as kangaroos, bandicoots, camels, dogs and cats can also cause infection.
People who work with animals, animal products and waste are at risk of being infected with Q fever, especially new workers and visitors to animal-related industries. People become infected with Q fever by inhaling contaminated aerosols and dust from:
- animals, animal products and waste (milk, wool, hides, fur, urine, faeces and birth products)
- animal environments (soil, bedding, straw, hay and grass)
- other contaminated items (machinery, equipment, vehicles and clothing).
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
- veterinarians and veterinary nurses
- 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.
How can the risk be reduced?
The best way to protect yourself against Q fever is to be vaccinated, which is recommended for those at occupational risk. You must be screened and tested before being vaccinated against Q fever. For those who already have immunity, this will be picked up during the screening and vaccination will not be necessary.
For more detailed information about Q fever prevention, visit the WHSQ Q fever page.
Leptospirosis is a bacteria that loves being in wet places. It is common in tropical regions particularly during the wet season. The disease is spread through contact with the urine of infected animals, especially cattle, pigs and rodents. People can get infected when the bacteria from animal urine or contaminated water, soil and vegetation makes its way into cuts, abrasions and sores or through the eyes, nose and mouth.
People at risk of leptospirosis include those who work:
- with cattle, pigs or rodents
- on farms, such as banana and berry farms
- in meat processing
- in areas where rodents inhabit, such as bushland
- with outdoor water sports, such as white-water rafting.
Ways to protect against Leptospirosis infection include:
- check your skin for cuts and abrasions before starting work and cover broken skin with a water-resistant dressing
- if you have a cut or abrasion, clean the wound thoroughly, apply an antiseptic and cover the area with a water-resistant dressing
- shower after work and change your work clothing
- keep work areas clean, dry and well drained
- clean and disinfect areas that are contaminated with animal urine or have signs of rodent activity
- clean up rubbish and food scraps to avoid attracting rodents and do regular pest control
- wear appropriate personal protective equipment
- speak to your veterinarian about vaccination and other biosecurity measures to protect your cattle and pigs against leptospirosis.
For more information about Leptospirosis, view the Don’t let lepto get under your skin brochure.