Australian dairy farmers are taking action to ensure their teams are tested and vaccinated for Q fever ahead of autumn calving.
Q fever is a disease spread to humans from animals such as dairy cows and causing severe flu-like illness lasting up to six weeks. Q fever can also lead to fatigue, hepatitis, pneumonia, chronic infections, or heart problems.
Farm workers are more at risk of contracting Q fever when dealing directly with animals, particularly calving down cows. Before autumn is the best time to make sure farm teams are safe, tested, and vaccinated.
Farm workers and visitors can be infected with Q fever by breathing in bacteria carried in dust.
Dairy Australia program manager Sarah Thompson said farmers were increasingly concerned by the risks associated with Q fever.
"We have seen a major increase in farmers contacting Dairy Australia to request information about Q fever, especially in northern regions such as Queensland and NSW," Ms Thompson said.
"Everyone on farm is at risk of Q fever, but we are lucky that Australia is the only country to have a human vaccine available.
"Every farmer and manager should see the New Year as a chance to refresh their knowledge of how to manage the risk of Q fever being contracted on their farm."
New workers should be tested for Q fever before their first day on farm, even if they have been employed on a farm before.
Fifth generation Murray Dairy region dairy farmer Peter Middlebrook knows firsthand how even the most experienced farmers are at risk, after he contracted Q fever on his 450-cow farm near Finley, NSW.
As he attempted to rescue a cow which had become stuck in a paddock, Mr Middlebrook was bucked and suffered a wound to his hand.
After being hospitalised with Q fever, Mr Middlebrook was told he would be unable to return to work for at least 10 days.
"I was young and thought I was bulletproof, but I wish I'd been vaccinated before it happened," he said.
"It really knocks you around and it took me a long time to get over it."
Mr Middlebrook now ensures his four farm workers are tested regularly.
NSW district vet Dr Lyndell Stone said nothing prevented Q fever as effectively as vaccination.
"Farm workers are highly susceptible to Q fever -- having any contact with an infected animal puts you at risk," Dr Stone said.
"Calving cows is especially risky, as bacteria is shared in faeces, urine, blood, uterine, and foetal fluids.
"The period before autumn calving is a good opportunity to go to your GP and assess your risk, and get vaccinated if necessary.
"Anyone over 15 years of age should be vaccinated if they're spending time on farm - whether it's farmers, managers, staff, families or visitors."
In Australia, it is an employer's responsibility to ensure the safety of their staff, including from both physical risks and the risk of contracting bacterial infections.
[lastpar]Dairy Australia's Farm Safety Manual provides a comprehensive guide for farmers looking to improve the safety system on their farm, including tips on working with livestock.
To access the Farm Safety Manual, visit www.thepeopleindairy.org.au/farm-safety/manual.