The region’s public health director has moved to allay community concerns after several cases of confirmed Q fever.
Curtis Gregory said seven cases of the potentially debilitating disease had been confirmed within the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District so far this year.
Statewide the number of cases has doubled in five years, from 130 in 2012 to 260 in 2015. In the first six months of 2016, NSW Health has been notified of 88 cases.
‘’Q fever is a bacterial infection normally spread to humans by infected animals,’’ Mr Gregory said.
‘’It’s mainly seen around agricultural and livestock industries and occupations but can be found in wildlife populations.’’
Mr Gregory said while case numbers were relatively low in the region, there had been some community concern over perceived hotspots.
‘’We have seen numbers group around certain areas in the Shoalhaven like Sanctuary Point, although there have been some cases in the southern Illawarra,’’ he said.
‘’We have done environmental sampling at different locations – of kangaroo and bandicoot droppings – but no positive results have been found.’’
Humans usually get infected by inhaling bacteria-carrying dust contaminated by animal urine, faeces or birth products.
‘’Those at higher risk of infection include abattoir and meat workers; farmers and shearers; stockyard workers and animal transporters; veterinarians and agriculture college staff and students,’’ Mr Gregory said. ‘’Horticulturists or gardeners may also be concerned if there’s a lot of wildlife in the area, as activities like lawn mowing may put them at risk.’’
Symptoms of Q fever appear two to three weeks after exposure, and include high fever, chills, sweats, headaches, muscle and joint pain and fatigue.
‘’In rarer incidences the people develop more serious complications – it can affect the heart or other organs like the liver,’’ Mr Gregory said.
Antibiotics effectively treat the disease, however there is a vaccine available for high-risk groups.
‘’It’s a one-off vaccine which gives life-long immunity – however testing needs to be done first to ensure the person hasn’t already been exposed,’’ Mr Gregory said.
‘I rang an ambulance because I thought I was going to die’
Daniel Delauney will be giving the kangaroos at his workplace a wide berth.
The 43-year-old groundskeeper from St Georges Basin contracted Q fever from infected kangaroos, after breathing in airborne particles from their droppings.
After two misdiagnoses this year, Mr Delauney’s health began deteriorating.
“The local doctor originally diagnosed me with a chest infection and then it got worse so I took myself to hospital but they sent me home with crampeze,” he said.
“The doctor says it can take up to two years to recover and sometimes you don’t properly recover at all.''
“It got so bad after that I rang an ambulance because I thought I was going to die.
“I couldn’t stop shivering, I had jaundice in my eyes, I was really bloated and they took me to Shoalhaven Hospital and then straight to the Wollongong Emergency Care Unit where I stayed for three weeks.”
Mr Delauney’s liver had begun shutting down and he’d gone from 82kg to 59kg.
“My liver ate every bit of muscle off my body,” he said. “The specialist said to me I must have some people upstairs watching over me because I shouldn’t be here.”
Antibiotics have cured the infection but the long-term effects are significant.
“The doctor says it can take up to two years to recover and sometimes you don’t properly recover at all,” he said.
“I’m slowly putting weight back on but some of the side effects are I’ve got the same skin as a 90-year-old man, I’ve got no muscle tissue left on my body and I’m really weak and frail.
‘’I’m just a mere shadow of myself.”
Mr Delauney said he wasn’t aware of the dangers of Q fever or how it was contracted and urged others working near animals to get vaccinated.
“You can get vaccinated for it but I didn’t know that, no-one mentioned it and I’m sure there’s a lot of other people who don’t realise that too,” he said.
“If you’re a groundsman or working near animals, get vaccinated. It’s really important, especially if you’re mowing over kangaroo droppings because that spread the particles.”
- Nicolette Pickard