Q fever is a potentially deadly disease. It pops up in unusual places and in unsuspecting victims, and it does not just affect farmers or people who deal with livestock.
Traditionally, the disease is well known to those who come into close contact with cattle, sheep and goats, but it also comes from other animals such as kangaroos, bandicoots, camels, dogs and cats.
Q fever is considered a “re-emerging pathogen of increasing public health importance”, according to the Australian Federal Department of Health.
It reported that people who lived on the outskirts of the city in areas with denser wildlife populations, including marsupials, were at risk.
Q fever symptoms may include:
- Fever that starts abruptly and can last several weeks
- Severe headache
- Aching muscles and joints
- Extreme tiredness and confusion
- Nausea and diarrhoea
- Blurred vision or extreme sensitivity to light
- Weight loss
Are kangaroos the culprit?
Woolgoolga man Tony McRae was surprised to learn the illness he had been battling was Q fever, and even more surprised to learn that several of his golf buddies had also been infected.
“I believe we contracted Q fever from the golf course; we all spent time around mown grass that contained plenty of kangaroo poo,” he said.
“The consequences were horrific — I was shaking violently for 20 minutes at a time, with night sweats and major headaches.
“I saw three different doctors before one suggested Q fever.
“One of my mates was in intensive care for nine weeks and the hospital couldn’t figure out what it was.”
Who is at risk?
According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries, out of the 225 cases detected in New South Wales in 2016, 74 per cent of those were in people who worked in high-risk occupations, while 85 per cent of patients reported having close contact with animal products or discharge.
Annual rates for the disease in the state vary, but have dropped since the early 1990s.
The department’s Ian Marsh said 50 per cent of cases were related to livestock or animals, but 50 per cent were not.
“It’s a disease that needs a lot more time and effort put into it to understand it,” Dr Marsh said.
“The current vaccine is somewhat problematic and we’re working to produce a new one, which will be much easier and safer to give to people.”
AMA NSW vice president Danielle McMullen said there were sporadic cases in urban areas and it was still not clear how that came about and why some people developed symptoms and why some people did not.
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