Farmers and those working with livestock are advised to take extra precautions as drought and windy conditions might result in higher cases of Q fever in regional and rural areas this year.
The Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD), which provides health services in areas such as Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo, has already recorded 31 Q fever cases this year.
Q fever is a bacterial infection carried by cattle, goats, sheep and other domesticated and wild animals.
According to the NSW Government, anyone aged 15 years and above is vulnerable to Q fever, but the fever mostly affects men aged 40 years and above.
Its symptoms include a severe flu, high fevers and chills, severe sweats and headaches, muscle and joint pain and extreme fatigue.
Officials suspect that the number of Q fever cases might go up as the current drought conditions in the region are similar to the dry year in 2015.
WNSWLHD co-ordinator of communicable diseases control, Priscilla Stanley, said people were encouraged to take precautions to protect themselves and their children.
“It is important for people to be aware of Q fever, especially given the drought conditions,” she said.
“The hot, dry conditions may place people in rural and remote areas of NSW at an increased risk of acquiring Q fever as Q fever bacteria can be spread by dust containing dried animal secretions.”
The WNSWLHD witnessed 81 cases of Q fever in 2015 - the highest number reported since the Q fever management program was rolled out early last decade.
A total of 70 cases of Q fever were notified in 2016, and another 50 cases were reported to the WNSWLHD in 2017.
“The Warrumbungle Shire had the highest notifications at 33, and Walgett Shire was the second-highest with 26 cases between 2015 and 2017,” Ms Stanley said.
Dubbo had 21 cases during the same period.
The NSW Government said the number of annual cases in NSW had ranged from 181 to 263 in the past five years and Q fever cases mostly occur in the north and west regions.
The state government has invested $475,000, including $275,000 for a Q fever education campaign and $200,000 for research, to protect farmers and other people in rural areas.
Precautions people should take to prevent Q fever:
- Wash hands and arms thoroughly in soapy water after any contact with animals
- Wear a properly fitting mask (ideally, a respirator available from hardware stores or pharmacies) when handling or disposing of animal products
- Cover wounds with waterproof dressings and wear thick gloves when handling or disposing of animal products
- Wear dedicated protective clothing such as coveralls when working with high risk animals, animal tissues or animal products
- Remove and wash dirty clothing, coveralls, boots and equipment in outdoor wash areas to prevent exposing to other household residents
- Wash animal urine, faeces, blood and other body fluids from equipment and surfaces and properly dispose of animal tissues including birth byproducts.