Q Fever in Sheep and Goats

The National Sheep Association (NSA) have issued a Press Release about Q Fever, which continues to gather momentum in the sheep and goat populations in Holland.

Please read the following advice from the HSE concerning this disease:

Information and Advice from Health & Safety Executive (HSE)

Q fever is a highly infective zoonotic disease (that is, one that can be passed between livestock and humans), caused by a micro-organism called Coxiella burnetii. This organism has a worldwide distribution among livestock, particularly sheep, cattle and goats. Infections in animals are generally asymptomatic (although it can cause abortion in cattle and sheep), and it is not considered to cause economically significant animal disease.

However, Q fever is strongly associated with certain occupations such as livestock farmers and farm workers although the true incidence is difficult to determine because many cases are mild, show no symptoms, go unreported or wrongly diagnosed. Pregnant workers may be particularly at risk. In the UK, approximately 70 cases are reported annually. However, in the summer of 2006 a major outbreak occurred in a Scottish meat processing plant resulting in over 100 cases of Q fever and this led to renewed interest in the subject.

In humans, infection may be described as acute or chronic. Q fever with acute symptoms usually occurs two or three weeks after exposure. Acute infection is usually characterised by an influenza-like illness, with varying degrees of pneumonia, or hepatitis. It can be easily misdiagnosed for other flu-like illness. Fever and fatigue are common whilst headache and muscle pains are also reported.

In a small number of cases, chronic Q fever can develop and this is potentially more serious with high fatality rates if left untreated. This is often associated with underlying health issues or pre-existing conditions and generally follows within 6 months (and up to several years) after acute infection. The commonest complication is endocarditis (a condition affecting the valves of the heart). Cases of chronic fatigue have also been reported. Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat cases when infection occurs but currently there are not any human vaccines licensed for use in the UK to prevent people from contracting Q fever.

Inhaling infective material or contaminated dust is the main route of transmission to workers, either from direct exposure to infected tissues (eg birth products) or indirectly through contaminated materials. The greatest risk of exposure is likely when animals are handled when giving birth, handling birth products or during abortions because large numbers of Coxiella burnetii may be present in the birth fluids or the placenta of infected animals. They may also be present in faeces, urine, and raw (untreated) milk. Infective spores can also spread the risks beyond the farm.

A few straightforward control measures can reduce the risk of infection:

wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling afterbirths or birth products. This should include a coverall, footwear such as wellington boots, gloves and respiratory protection.
practice good personal hygiene eg. wash hands thoroughly before eating or drinking, and in the event that they become contaminated with animal tissue or fluids.
wash cuts and grazes immediately with soap and running water.
ensure any potentially infected material is cleaned up and disposed of safely.





dvd-setFor further sheep welfare information, see 'Managing Your Flock for Peak Health', programme 2 in the series 'Sheep on Your Smallholding'.