What is it?
Q fever is caused by an infectious bacteria or germ known as Coxiella Burnetii. It is a notifiable disease in all Australian states and territories.
What to look for
An infected person usually carries the germ for 19–21 days before showing any symptoms.
When infected, some people experience no signs, while others just feel a little ‘off colour’ for a few days. Most people however, feel like they have a bad case of the ‘flu. Symptoms include fever, chills, sweats, severe headache, weakness, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea for 7 to 10 days. For most people, these signs pass and there are no more problems. If you already have heart problems, you may get infection of the heart valves and severe illness as a result.
It is very rare for anybody to die from the illness, although some people may get other problems months or years after the infection. This can be extreme tiredness and weakness, muscle pains, headaches, fever, and depression.
Where does it come from and how is it transmitted?
Q fever is a disease that can be spread to humans mainly from cattle, sheep and goats. The germ is spread in the urine, faeces and milk, but birth fluids, the foetus and the placenta are the most dangerous sources. When infected, fluids dry out the germ and can remain alive in the dust for years. People can become infected by breathing in infected dust or being splashed by droplets of infected fluids such as birth fluids or faeces.
Controlling the spread
Severe cases of Q fever generally require treatment with antibiotics for the infection to pass. Isolation is not necessary. No specific measures are required for household contacts.
Am I already protected?
You are probably immune to Q fever and should not get the disease if you have ever had:
- a vaccination against Q fever,
- a test to say that you are immune, or
- the Q fever disease diagnosed by a doctor and confirmed by a blood test requested by a doctor.
Vaccination to prevent infection
Preventing this disease is the main aim of Q fever vaccination.
Immunising those high risk groups (animal workers) is the best way to prevent Q fever. There is a risk of severe local reactions to the vaccine. However, this risk can be lessened by screening these people before vaccination.
Contraindications to the vaccine include:
- Not recommended in children < 15 years of age
- Serology and skin tests are taken into account before vaccinating with Q fever vaccine
- Persons with a known hypersensitivity (allergy) to egg proteins (or any vaccine component)
It is important to know that vaccination provides lifelong immunity in most people that are vaccinated.
The Victorian Bluebook: Q fever
Q fever Chapter: Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th edition 2013
Health Direct Australia: Q fever
Reviewed by: Nigel Crawford (Paediatrician, The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne)
Date: July 2014
Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre (MVEC) staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.
You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family’s personal health. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult a healthcare professional.
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