Q fever – are you managing the risk of exposure?
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) has seen a recent increase in Q fever notifications.
The most commonly reported zoonotic disease in Australia, Q fever is caused by a bacteria carried mainly carried by cows, sheep and goats. Notifications for Q fever are highest in Queensland with more than 220 notifications a year since 2016. However, actual cases could be far greater due to under-reporting or cases going undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
A notifiable incident, work-caused Q fever is a potentially serious disease and can cause acute and chronic illness.
WHSQ is campaigning to raise awareness of Q fever risks and help industry improve the way it manages Q fever risks. Workplace assessments are being conducted across Queensland in the livestock industry supply chain to ensure appropriate controls are implemented. These assessments are focusing on:
- beef, sheep and goat producers
- livestock transport operators
- saleyard owners and operators
- livestock agents and meat processors.
People usually catch the infection by breathing in infectious aerosols or dust associated with infected animals, their blood and body substances and contaminated environments. Spread of infection from person-to-person is rare.
Non-immune workers in the domestic livestock supply chain (cattle, sheep and goats) are at significant risk of acquiring Q fever.
Livestock transport workers may be exposed to Q fever risks from multiple sources of exposure along the livestock transport chain, including work with livestock and animal excreta, cleaning livestock transport trucks and visiting potentially contaminated environments such as stockyards and meat processing plants. Mechanics working on these trucks are also at risk.
Q fever vaccination is the most important way to protect workers against infection. You should also use the hierarchy of controls to manage risks, such as:
- eliminate the risks (restrict non-immune persons from visiting the workplace)
- minimise the risk by rostering-on immune workers for high-risk locations and tasks
- isolate the hazard by restricting non-essential and non-immune persons from risk areas
- use engineering and design controls, such as installing ventilation systems to minimise the dispersal of airborne contaminants
- administrative controls should be used to support higher order control measures.
- WHSQ dedicated Q fever webpage.
- Human health issues visit www.health.qld.gov.au or call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84).
- Animal health issues, visit www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au or call 13 25 23.
To find a Q fever vaccine provider or to register immune workers, contact the Q Fever Register on 1300 QFEVER (1300 733 837) or visit www.qfever.org.