When it comes to receiving vaccinations, most people have shots to immunise themselves against the most deadly diseases and leave it at that. However, depending on your circumstances, you may be well advised to have yourself vaccinated against Q fever.

What is Q fever?

Q fever is a disease caused by the Coxiella bernetii bacterium that can cause a range of debilitating and potentially dangerous symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Gastrointestinal problems -- These can include diarrhoea, vomiting, severe nausea and abdominal pains.
  • Sore throat -- Often accompanied by a dry, racking cough.
  • Severe headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Cognitive dysfunction -- Sufferers often feel confused and have trouble thinking clearly.
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue -- This fatigue can continue for some time even after the condition has been treated, a condition known as post-Q fever fatigue syndrome.

Untreated or severe cases of Q fever can also promote the incidence of other diseases, such as pneumonia. In rare cases, the infection can become chronic and infect the heart, causing dangerous inflammation. People who have received an organ transplant or have a compromised immune system are most at risk of developing chronic Q fever.

Despite all these deeply unpleasant symptoms, Q fever usually responds well to a course of antibiotics, and in most cases, the disease diminishes over time even without treatment. Instead, the real danger of this disease is the way it is transmitted -- Q fever can be freely transmitted between animals and humans, including most livestock species, and only requires a few viable bacteria to infect a body for the disease to set in. It can also survive for long periods without a human or animal host. As such, Q fever can be transmitted in unusual ways that are extremely difficult to control, such as airborne dust from dried, infected cattle dung that can travel for miles.

Should I receive a Q fever vaccination?

If you have suffered from a bout of Q fever before, you should not receive a Q fever vaccination -- your body will have almost certainly developed a natural immunity to the disease (like chicken pox, most people can only suffer from Q fever once), and attempting vaccination may result in a painful reaction at the injection site.

However, if you live in a high-risk area or work in a professional that involves working with animal tissues, Q fever vaccinations are important, and may even be a stipulation of employment in certainly fields such as abattoir work. To this end, the Australian government maintains a Q fever register and provides vaccinated people with a card to prove their status as immune. The following groups are at high risk of acquiring Q fever, and should receive vaccinations if they have not done so already:

  • Veterinarians
  • Farmers and farm workers
  • Abattoir and meat process plant workers
  • Sheep shearers
  • Tannery workers
  • Laboratory workers who regularly work with animals, particularly livestock animals
  • Kangaroo cull hunters
  • Cat and dog breeders
  • Zoo personnel
  • People who live close to areas or buildings where animals are kept and/or slaughtered

How can I receive Q fever vaccinations?

Receiving a Q fever vaccination is relatively simple, and many medical clinics around the country offer the service, particularly in agricultural areas. However, before you can be vaccinated, you should be screened for any pre-existing Q fever immunity, due to the aforementioned side effects associated with vaccinating immune patients.

Once screening is complete, vaccination can take place -- the vaccination itself consists of killed Coxiella bernetii bacteria, so there is no risk of developing the disease from a vaccination. Q fever vaccines consist of a single injection, and confer lifelong immunity to the disease in almost all cases. However, if you are a high-risk patient you should consider having annual screenings to check for signs of infection, as inactive Q fever bacteria can incubate inside a body for several months without causing symptoms.

For more information, contact a medical clinic in your area.