Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Answering Q’s about Q Fever

Graham Centre researchers are playing a key role in a national research project that aims to understand the risk of Q Fever and develop emergency response plans for an outbreak of the illness in people.

Q fever is a debilitating illness, caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii that can be spread from animals to humans.

Associate Professor Jane HellerCharles Sturt University (CSU) Associate Professor in Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health Jane Heller said,  “A number of outbreaks of Q Fever in humans have occurred nationally and internationally. The most noteworthy being a recent outbreak in the Netherlands that occurred between 2007 and 2010, which resulted in 4000 cases and 30 deaths in humans, along with the destruction of numerous dairy goats in order to contain the outbreak.

“The recent increase in intensive dairy goat production in Australia, along with an understanding that the causative agent of Q fever (Coxiella burnetii) is present in and shed by many other species inclusive of macropods, highlights the need for improved understanding of this pathogen, disease and appropriate control measures for the Australian situation.”

The big picture

The project ’Taking the Q (query) out of Q Fever: developing a better understanding of the drivers of Q Fever spread in farmed ruminants’ is a multidisciplinary research collaboration.

It is funded by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural Research & Development for Profit program.

Project partners include CSU, University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, University of Adelaide, University of Queensland, Australian Rickettsial Laboratory, Meredith Dairy, Got Veterinary Consultancies, Agrifutures, DEDJTR and QDAF.

The project is divided into three activities. 1 focuses on determining the factors influencing Q fever transmission within and between commercial dairy goat herds, activity 2 will result in the description of the spatial distribution of Q fever seropositivity in macropods.

The CSU team, led by Professor Heller and including Graham Centre member Ms Lynne Hayes, is focusing on the development of a Q fever research strategy and emergency response to be implemented in case of future Q fever outbreaks.

Our role

Professor Heller says stakeholder workshops will identify the current and potential mechanisms and process of reporting of Q fever cases or outbreaks in both humans and animals.

“This is particularly important for a disease such as Q fever, where both animal health and human health outcomes are possible and the disease is only notifiable for one species- humans,” said Professor Heller.

“We’ll also explore the knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) of key stakeholders and the people who influence them.

“We also want to identify reporting and communication within and between sectors.

“Our goal is to build the capacity for identification and recognition of Q fever illness or clusters of disease across different species.

“The next step will be to develop an appropriate emergency response plan that’s targeted at the channels of reporting and communication identified in the research.”

More information about the project is available here


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