Farmers are a tough breed. When something strikes us down, we don’t always let everyone know about it. So it’s not surprising that Q fever – spread to humans from infected animals – is under-diagnosed and under-reported.
Australia has one of the highest rates of Q fever in the world, mostly in NSW and Queensland. Farmers are the most affected group, partly because of inadequate immunisation.
NSW towns, including Guyra and Gunnedah, are Q fever hotspots, with up to 22 per cent of the population showing exposure. About 2pc of people who contract Q fever end up with life-threatening heart valve failure, and a small percentage die from the illness. A quarter of sufferers will never fully recover.
While most Q fever cases come from contact with infected animals, an increasing proportion is attributable to community exposure, including living near abattoirs and visiting farms or saleyards. The good news is there is a vaccine available. However, it requires pre-screening, and isn’t covered by Medicare if you’re at risk of contracting Q fever through your employment. Getting tested and vaccinated means two visits to a qualified doctor. For many farmers, this means two long round-trips
NSW Farmers is calling on the state government to fund free testing and vaccination clinics in NSW. We need to upskill rural practitioners and remove travel and cost barriers for people seeking testing and vaccination. We’re also proposing an awareness program to increase diagnosis and reporting, increase immunisation coverage, and ensure everyone is aware of the risks of Q fever.
Governments should trial new technology to allow faster and more objective testing. Our elected representatives need to take Q fever seriously – we need action, not a watching brief, to prevent more outbreaks and to protect rural residents.