Research to minimise Q fever outbreaks

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The incidence of human cases of Q fever not associated with livestock is increasing in Victoria and Queensland—and researchers from The University of Queensland want to know why.

Q fever, an infectious disease which causes prolonged, debilitating illness, is normally transmitted to humans from goats, sheep, cattle and other animals.

“Human Q fever cases have traditionally been associated with livestock enterprises, so we are not sure what is going on,” said Dr Ricardo Soares Magalhaes from UQ’s School of Veterinary Science, adding that there is some evidence environmental contamination might be involved.

“One theory is that intensification of animal production, dust storms and severe weather might be affecting airborne transmission of the disease from farms to surrounding communities.”

To test this, Dr Magalhaes and his team will use geographical information systems previously applied to mapping bird flu to track the transmission from farms and detect the bacterium Coxiella burnetii which causes Q fever.

“We’ll look at whether goats play more of a role than other livestock or wildlife in the infection in Victoria and Queensland, and how infections in the air decay with distance, using air filters stationed at different distances.”

Dr Magalhaes said the project aims to develop a better understanding of factors influencing the risk of Q fever spread within—and beyond—Australian ruminant livestock enterprises.

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