2017 June - An Occupational Hazard - Q Fever

Q fever is caused by Coxiella burnetii, is a serious zoonotic disease in humans with a worldwide distribution. Many species of animals (commonly cattle, sheep, goats but also cats and dogs) are capable of transmitting C. burnetii, and consequently all veterinary staff are potentially at risk.

Australia is the only country to have a licensed Q fever vaccine (QVax). This vaccine is readily available although not all doctors do the required preliminary testing and follow up vaccination so you may need to ring your local GP for advice and direction. Almost all, if not all, Australian veterinary graduates are vaccinated but overseas graduates, veterinary nurses and kennel staff should not be overlooked. 

The vaccine has been used in Australia for many years however still there are over 600 notifications across Australia annually.

There are many resources for you to use to assist you to take care of yourself and those working with you.

  1. An excellent reference guide for immunisation is “The Australian immunisation handbook” which recommends Q fever vaccine for those at risk of infection with C. burnetii. This includes veterinarians, veterinary nurses, veterinary students, professional dog and cat breeders, wildlife and zoo workers (working with high-risk animals) and laboratory personnel handling veterinary specimens or working with the organism. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/Handbook10-home~handbook10part4~handbook10-4-15
  2. NSW Department of Health has an excellent Fact Sheet available http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/q-fever-veterinary-staff.aspx
  3. Risk control measures must be made available for your workers, contractors and others who may be exposed to the disease. See  www.safework.nsw.gov.au/health-and-safety/safety-topics-a-z/diseases/q-fever
  4. The AVA has very comprehensive personal biosecurity guidelines that are available to all veterinarians online. This provides a template infection control plan that may assist superintendents to meet their obligations. www.ava.com.au/biosecurity-guidelines 
  5. Zoetis through Vets Australia has also published very practical information in Infection Control Guidelines which can be downloaded by any veterinarian from  mail.google.com/mail/u/1/?tab=wm#search/zoetis/15c0e943778694ae


The Board’s Responsibilities of a Veterinary Hospital Superintendent guidelines requires superintendents to ensure that:

  • The hospital has the appropriate personal protective equipment and other equipment necessary to perform clinical examinations, treatments and surgery to current standards of practice and that this equipment is maintained in accordance with the recommendations of the manufacturer.
  • The hospital has a written infection control plan which is reviewed at least annually to help people in the hospital reduce their risk of acquiring a zoonotic disease.