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Calling on landholders to take part in Q Fever surveillance project

Livestock producers are being urged to get involved in a Q fever surveillance project aimed at building a better understanding of the disease in both humans and livestock.

Q fever is caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetti. The animal form of the disease is also known as coxiellosis.

Central Tablelands Local Land Services District Veterinarian, Lucienne Downs, has been leading an investigation into coxiellosis exposure in sheep, cattle and goat herds, and she’s seeking farmer cooperation to continue the research.

“We’re calling on farmers to let their local vet know as soon as possible if they find unexplained calving or lambing losses,” said Dr Downs.

“If coxiellosis is considered a potential cause, samples can be submitted by the attending veterinarian through our surveillance project so we can test for the infection.”

Despite the fact that animals such as sheep, cattle and goats are the primary source of human Q Fever infection, the extent of coxiellosis in the animal population in Australia is poorly understood.

“Tests to detect the Coxiella burnetii organism in animals are not widely accessible in Australia, however Central Tablelands Local Land Services is funding DNA testing for the organism at the Australian Rickettsial Reference Laboratory in Geelong,” explained Dr Downs.

“Spontaneous abortions aren’t always investigated by farmers, which isn’t surprising. Sometimes the losses may not be noticed, especially in sheep if they haven’t been scanned, or lambing losses may be deemed due to predation or exposure. It can also take multiple tests for different possibilities which can be expensive.”

However Dr Downs believes it is worth investigating for coxiellosis because of the potential implications for human health and production losses.

According to Dr Downs it’s not currently known how often infected animals in Australia are shedding the bacteria that causes Q Fever.

“The research so far has been limited and there’s not a lot of data on the prevalence of the disease in livestock.”

“If we can gather more information through testing of samples from aborted foetuses and pregnancy fluids we will build our knowledge of this disease.”

If a positive result is found in a test sample, private veterinarians and Local Land Services agencies can then work with the affected farmers to introduce protective strategies for humans, as well as implementing procedures to reduce production losses in stock.

Landholders interested in assisting with Local Land Services Q fever surveillance project are asked to contact Dr Lucienne Downs by phone on 0417 043 966 or via email: lucienne.downs@lls.nsw.gov.au.