Taking the query out of Q fever is a multidisciplinary research-industry group that aims to improve understanding of Q fever reservoirs, amplification and transmission pathways. Our research will help direct biosecurity resources more efficiently in Australia and more broadly. In turn this will reduce the burden of an extremely debilitating disease in rural communities and around the globe.
Developing a better understanding of the drivers of Q fever in farmed animals
This project will provide knowledge that can be used to develop policies that will limit the likelihood of a large and prolonged Q fever outbreak in Australia. This will help to maintain Australia’s position as an exporter of premium agricultural produce.
The overall objectives of our research are to:
- develop a better understanding of factors influencing the risk of Q fever spread within and between Australian ruminant livestock enterprises
- develop national guidelines for an emergency response plan to be used in the event of future Q fever outbreaks in humans
What is Q fever and how is it spread from animals to humans?
Q fever is an infectious disease of humans and animals caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii. In humans, Q fever causes a prolonged, debilitating illness. Some affected individuals will also develop chronic syndromes that include pneumonia and endocarditis. Intensively managed livestock herds provide conditions favourable for amplification and spread of Q fever. C. burnetii is extremely resistant to environmental conditions and is one of the most contagious organisms known to man: a single organism is sufficient to cause infection. The most common route of infection is inhalation of contaminated dust, though contact with contaminated milk, meat, wool and close contact with infected animals, particularly their birthing products, also pose risks of infection.
The risk of Q fever outbreaks in Australia
In The Netherlands in 2007-2010 there was a large outbreak of Q fever in humans, with 4000 confirmed cases and 30 deaths. Dairy goat herds, infected with Q fever, were the source of this outbreak. There is a risk that an outbreak of Q fever, similar to that which occurred in The Netherlands, could occur in Australia. We have some of the highest rates of human infection in the world, and our combination of conducive climate conditions and growing livestock industry makes us susceptible to possible outbreaks.
To find out more about our research, please navigate this website and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions. You can learn more about Q fever in Australia by listening to a recent (and excellent) ABC Landline podcast series and by viewing some useful fact sheets on transmission, diagnosis and treatment.
Here you can catch up on the latest news from our own research and engagement as well as other Q fever related news from around the world. Please feel free to contact us if you come across other important and relevant news articles about Q fever that you’d like us to cover.
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Q Fever Group members being covered in the media
Multiple Q Fever Group members have published an article in The Conversation that summarises how Australia’s ongoing drought could be increasing the risk of Q fever transmission. They use evidence that Coxiella burnetii spores are very resilient and able to survive in soil or dust for many years to conclude that this bacteria can spread very far during drought, even attaching to dust and travelling 10km or more on winds. This bacteria is also resistant to dehydration and UV radiation, making Australia’s mostly dry climate a very hospitable breeding ground.
Q Fever Group member Associate Professor Jane Heller of Charles Sturt University was recently interviewed by The Land, a news outlet whose principal aim is to convey news items and relevant information to people whose life and work revolve around agriculture in rural Australia. A/Prof Heller discusses how our industry-research partnership is designed to address major research gaps in Q fever knowledge and help to form a national guideline for an emergency response, should the need arise. See more insight from A/Prof Heller in this Queensland and Country Life article.
Q Fever Group member Dr Tabita Tan from The University of Melbourne was recently interviewed by Dairy News Australia. In this article, Dr Tan explains how high rates of Q fever infection in livestock herds can persist, even without obvious signs of any symptoms in the animals. Dr Tan states that the annual cost of Q fever to the cattle industry amounts to at least $1 million in lost productivity, medical expenses and potential litigation, though this is likely to be a conservative understatement.
Updated national guidelines for Q fever management in Australia
An updated Series of National Guidelines (SoNG) document outlining approaches for diagnosing, treating and managing Q fever in Australia have been issued by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia. This document gives a very thorough overview of the issues that Q fever poses for Australian livestock communities, and also goes into some of the technical aspects of Q fever diagnosis.
Q fever is a key moral and election issue for Australia
The Country Women’s Association (CWA) of Queensland is advocating for increased funding to educate practitioners and the general public about the dangers of Q fever. This comes on the back of calls for increased funding for Q fever scientific research and immunisations as an election priority for Queensland, particularly during the ongoing drought. See a quick video overview here https://www.prime7.com.au/news/6292-q-fever. In addition, NSW Farmers has lead a petition to ask the federal government to reinstate the Q Fever Vaccination Programme. Read more in this recent article from The Land and in this article by NSW Farmers. This coincides with a recent study suggesting that Q fever vaccination needs to be more strongly considered by rural residents in eastern Australia.
British troops may have contracted Q fever on deployment
Up to 90 British troops are suspected to have contracted Q fever while serving in Afghanistan, according to a report from UK military news outlet Forces Network. Read more about the ensuing lawsuit, as well as a nice and brief overview of Q fever, in this article in The Conversation and in a more in-depth investigation about a single soldier in this article from the BBC.
Other Q Fever Group news items
- Q fever outbreaks: Identifying, assessing and managing the risk, panel discussion and scientific presentations at the Sheep, Camelid and Goat Veterinarians Special Interest Group of the Australian Veterinary Association, Melbourne, 12-16 August 2018
- SE Queensland goat farm bus tour after Australian Veterinary Association Conference, Friday 18 May 2018. Organised by Sheep Goat Camelid SIG of the AVA
- Project collaborators meeting, University of Melbourne, 18 April 2018
- Q Fever Research News, AgriFutures Australia, 17 Dec 2017 http://veterinarycareers.com.au/q-fever-research-news/
- Project meeting, Melbourne Airport, 9 May 2017
- Research to minimise Q fever outbreaks, Vet Practice Magazine, 13 Oct 2016: https://vetpracticemag.com.au/research-minimise-q-fever-outbreaks/
- Research to minimise Q fever outbreaks, UQ News, 10 Oct 2016: https://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2016/10/research-minimise-q-fever-outbreaks
- National Workshop to Identify Q Fever Knowledge Gaps and Research Needs, Melbourne, 15-16 April 2015
Taking the Query out of Q fever (i.e. the Q Fever Group) is a multidisciplinary initiative that brings together academic research groups, government agencies and livestock industry partners from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. Funded by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit programme, with support from AgriFutures Australia as well as multiple university and industry partners, this multidisciplinary project’s overarching aim is to improve understanding of Coxiella burnetii reservoirs, amplification and transmission pathways within and outside Australian livestock holdings.
The University of Melbourne
- Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences (Vet Epi @ Melbourne)
- Professor Mark Stevenson (Project Leader)
- Dr Bonny Cumming (Project Manager)
- Dr Simon Firestone
- Dr Anke Wiethoelter
The University Queensland
- School of Veterinary Science (UQ Spatial Epidemiology Laboratory)
- Associate Professor Ricardo Soares Magalhães
- Dr Nicholas Clark
The University of Adelaide
Charles Sturt University
- Associate Professor John Stenos
- Dr Gemma Vincent
- Professor Stephen Graves
- Sandy & Julie Cameron
- Dr Sandra Baxendell
Other Partners of the Q Fever Group
The project also welcomes generous support from NSW Department of Primary Industries, the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts, and Resources, Biosecurity Queensland and Nuchev Pty Ltd.
Here you can find a broad range of other resources that we have found helpful for building a better understanding of Q fever, its causes and its impacts in the community. Please feel free to contact us if you come across other important and relevant resources that you’d like us to share.
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Audio/visual resources on Q fever
Q fever infographics
About vaccination and the Australian Q Fever Register
Other fact sheets about Q fever prevention
Here you can see the latest outputs from our research and engagement as well as other works that have been published by members of the Q Fever Group. Please feel free to contact us if you require access to publication full texts.
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Gidding, H.F., Faddy, H.M., Durrheim, D.N., Graves, S.R., Nguyen, C., Hutchinson, P., Massey, P. & Wood, N. (2019) Seroprevalence of Q fever among metropolitan and non‐metropolitan blood donors in New South Wales and Queensland, 2014–2015. Med. J. Aust., 210, 309-315.
Armstrong, M., Francis, J., Robson, J., Graves, S., Mills, D., Ferguson, J. & Nourse, C., 2019. Q fever vaccination of children in Australia: Limited experience to date. J. Paed. Child Health. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/jpc.14364.
Clark, NJ, Caraguel, C, Heller, J, Soares Magalhães, RJ and Firestone, S. Australia’s drought could be increasing Q fever risk, but there are ways we can protect ourselves. The Conversation. March 12, 2019.
Canevari, J.T., Firestone, S.M., Vincent, G., Campbell, A., Tan, T., Muleme, M., Cameron, A.W.N. & Stevenson, M.A., 2018. The prevalence of Coxiella burnetii shedding in dairy goats at the time of parturition in an endemically infected enterprise and associated milk yield losses. BMC Vet. Res. 14(1):353.
Bond, K.A., Franklin, L., Sutton, B., Stevenson, M.A., Firestone, S.M., 2018. A review of 20 years of human acute Q Fever notifications in Victoria, 1994-2013. Aust. Vet. J. 96:223-230.
Clark N., Soares Magalhães R.J., 2018. Airborne geographical dispersal of Q Fever from livestock holdings to human communities: a systematic review and critical appraisal of evidence. BMC Infect. Dis. doi: 10.1186/s12879-018-3135-4.
Sellens, E., Bosward, K., Willis, S., Heller, J., Cobbold, R., Comeau, J., Norris, J., Dhand, N. & Wood, N. (2018) Frequency of adverse events following Q fever immunisation in young adults. Vaccines, 6, 83.
Sellens, E., Norris, J.M., Dhand, N.K., Heller, J., Hayes, L., Gidding, H.F., Willaby, H., Wood, N. & Bosward, K.L. (2018) Willingness of veterinarians in Australia to recommend Q fever vaccination in veterinary personnel: Implications for workplace health and safety compliance. PLoS One, 13, e0198421.
Bond, K.A., Franklin, L.J., Sutton, B., Firestone, S.M., 2017. Q-Vax Q fever vaccine failures, Victoria, Australia 1994–2013. Vaccine 35, 7084-7087.
Coxiella burnetii infections in intensively-managed dairy goats: elucidation of transmission dynamics and vaccination strategies, Muleme (2017) PhD thesis. https://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/handle/11343/197548
Muleme, M., Campbell, A., Stenos, J., Devlin, J.M., Vincent, G., Graves, S., Cameron, A.R., Wilks, C.R., Firestone, S.M., 2017. A longitudinal study of Coxiella burnetii transmission dynamics in intensively-managed kid goats supports early use of vaccines. Vet. Res. 48, 1-15.
Muleme, M., Stenos, J., Vincent, G., Wilks, C.R., Devlin, J.M., Campbell, A., Cameron, A., Stevenson, M.A., Graves, S., Firestone, S.M., 2017. Peripartum dynamics of Coxiella burnetii infections in intensively managed dairy goats associated with a Q fever outbreak in Australia. Prev. Vet. Med. 139, 58-66.
Muleme, M., Stenos, J., Vincent, G., Campbell, A., Graves, S., Warner, S., Devlin, J.M., Nguyen, C., Stevenson, M.A., Wilks, C.R., Firestone, S.M., 2016. Bayesian validation of the indirect immuno-fluorescence assay and its superiority to the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and complement fixation test for detecting antibodies against Coxiella burnetii in goat serum. Clin. Vaccine Immunol., CVI. 00724-00715.
Wilks, C., 2016. Q Fever Risk Management Plan for proposed intensive dairy goat farms. Nuchev Pty Ltd. http://nuchev.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Nuchev-Q-Fever-Risk-Management-Plan.pdf
Sellens, E., Norris, J.M., Dhand, N.K., Heller, J., Hayes, L., Gidding, H.F., Willaby, H., Wood, N. & Bosward, K.L., 2016. Q Fever knowledge, attitudes and vaccination status of Australia’s veterinary workforce in 2014. PLoS One 11, e0146819.
Stevenson, M.A., Firestone, S.M., 2015. Veterinary epidemiology and ‘One Health’ in Australasia. Aust. Epidemiol. 22, 35-38.
Bond, K.A., Vincent, G., Wilks, C.R., Franklin, L., Sutton, B., Stenos, J., Cowan, R., Lim, K., Athan, E., Harris, O., Macfarlane-Berry, L., Segal, Y., Firestone, S.M., 2015. One Health approach to controlling a Q fever outbreak on an Australian goat farm. Epidemiol. Infect., 1-13.
Other Q Fever Group Member Publications
Simon Firestone (https://scholar.google.com.au/citations?user=z9_YatsAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=sra)
Ricardo Soares Magalhães (https://scholar.google.com.au/citations?user=aAh0t1AAAAAJ&hl=en)
Nicholas Clark (https://scholar.google.com.au/citations?user=5bO9uxEAAAAJ&hl=en)
Charles Caraguel (https://scholar.google.com.au/citations?user=X2131y0AAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao)