Q Fever? … What’s that?

Meg Humphrys and Jocelyn Coventry

A producer recently came to me (Meg) and said that despite  her 20 years in the livestock industry “no one has ever told me about Q Fever”  and “why should I be aware of it if I work in the livestock industry?”

To address this need I uncovered some facts in conjunction with Jocelyn Coventry and the staff at the  Centre for Disease Control and have summarised them below.


Q fever is caused by bacteria (Coxiella burnetii) carried by a wide variety of  livestock, domesticated pets and wild animals. It can also be carried by humans  although human to human transmission is not thought to occur.

About 50% of people with Q fever will have no symptoms.  Others may develop a brief or mild illness. Other people can also present with  acute severe influenza-like symptoms, commonly resulting in infection of the  lungs or liver. In 1-5% of cases, Q fever may persist and cause chronic  infection.

Q Fever is infrequently  diagnosed; but most frequently found in people working in abattoirs, meat  processing, veterinary practices or with livestock. Q Fever is potentially serious, especially for  people with HIV, lymphoma or if pregnant.

The first reported case of Q Fever in the NT was in 2002.  There have been 33 cases notified in the NT, some of those might have been  contracted across borders. This number is probably an under-estimate because it  is likely many cases go undiagnosed.

For those at high risk of Q fever, a vaccination is  available. A register of vaccinators can be found at the Australian  Meat Processor Corporation website.

Please see the following links for more information:

Scanning electron micrograph of the bacteria that causes Q Fever (Coxiella burnetii)

Scanning electron micrograph of the bacteria that causes Q Fever (Coxiella burnetii)

Last updated: 10 April 2019

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