Hundreds of people contract Q fever in Australia each year, transmitted predominantly from cattle, sheep and goats. It is released into the environment through faeces, urine, milk, and birth products from infected animals.
About half of the people exposed to Q fever experience flu-like symptoms, with 40 per cent requiring hospital care. Australia is the only country where a Q fever vaccine is available to those working in the livestock industry. However, contaminated dust can be carried away from farming areas and infect unvaccinated people in neighbouring areas.
University of Sydney Associate Professor Katrina Bosward, a veterinary microbiologist, has partnered with the livestock industry to generate scientific knowledge to back up the need for an Australian-made vaccine against Q fever in livestock.
The bacterial infection does not manifest with symptoms in livestock although scientific evidence is showing that Q fever can cause a spate of abortions and impact reproductive capacity and milk production.
"It's not just a public health concern, and it could be costing farmers more than they realise," says Professor Bosward. Ideally, she says, a vaccine for the animals would solve both problems.
There is a vaccine for livestock available in Europe, but it is produced in a factory where other live vaccines for diseases not present in Australia are also manufactured. The risk of those diseases escaping into our environment is too great, meaning Australia is looking to manufacture its own vaccine.
"The main aim of this collaboration is to work out the impact Q fever has on production and whether a vaccine would be a financially viable option," Professor Bosward says. "That would give the industry more justification to fight for more funding to produce the vaccine."
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