Study shows living in rural areas put you at risk of Q fever
RESEARCH from the University of Sydney has found that rural populations are at increased risk of catching the highly infectious bacterial infection Q fever, even those who are not regularly exposed to livestock.
Q fever is a highly infectious bacterial disease that can cause a severe flu-like illness.
It is commonly found in rural and regional areas with the bacteria spread to humans from animals, mainly cattle, sheep and goats.
Most cases are asymptomatic, but in some the infection can lead to pneumonia, bone and joint infections, chronic Q fever, heart disease and debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome.
The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, found that only 40 percent of people in groups recommended for vaccination knew about the Q fever vaccine, and only 10 percent of people in these high risk groups were vaccinated.
This was the first community-based study in Australia designed to measure past exposure to Q fever and identify factors associated with exposure.
The researchers sampled 2740 blood donors in metropolitan Sydney and Brisbane, and in non-metropolitan regions with high Q fever notification rates (Hunter New England in New South Wales, and Toowoomba in Queensland).
Associate Professor Heather Gidding from University of Sydney and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) explained the results.
"Evidence of past exposure through Q fever antibodies was higher in non-metropolitan than metropolitan regions in both NSW and Queensland," she said.
"Adults who have regular contact with sheep, cattle or goats, abattoir workers, and those assisting with animal births had the highest levels of exposure and these groups are recommended to receive the Q fever vaccine.
"However, having lived in a rural area with no or rare contact with sheep, cattle or goats was itself associated with exposure, even after accounting for other exposures. Which means you are highly likely to be exposed to Q fever, not because you work with animals, but just because you live in a regional or rural area."
Co-author Associate Professor Nicholas Wood from University of Sydney and NCIRS said awareness and access to Q fever vaccine needs to be improved.
"Raising awareness about Q fever and the vaccine in rural communities and amongst health care workers will help improve uptake of what is a highly effective vaccine."
A new online training module for rural general practitioners has recently been developed by the Communicable Diseases Branch, Health Protection New South Wales through the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and should improve awareness of the vaccine as well as improve general practitioners' knowledge about Q fever and how to diagnose it.
The study was published in the Medical Journal of Australia.