LIVESTOCK producers are uniting nationally behind the Sheepmeat Council of Australia to negotiate Federal Government action on Q Fever management.
Peak farmer organisations in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia have called for a new national Q Fever management program with subsidised testing and vaccination.
The Victorian Farmers Federation and NSW Farmers have also called also for a vaccine treatment to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to make immunisation against the flu-like disease affordable in rural communities.
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Q Fever is carried by cattle, sheep and goats, as well as feral animals, and can be transmitted to humans. It poses the greatest risk to people working with livestock, such as farmers, abattoir workers, veterinarians and animal handlers. Symptoms range from high fever, nausea, muscle and joint pain and loss of weight through to chronic fatigue. About 20 percent of infected people suffer from Post Q Fever Fatigue Syndrome.
Sheepmeat Council of Australia chief executive officer Dr Kat Giles said the body had written to deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce and former Minister for Health Sussan Ley seeking the re-establishment of the National Q Fever Management Program.
“That program ran from 2001-2006 delivering subsidised vaccine to people who were at a high risk.
“Within the sheep industry, those people who are constantly in contact with livestock are at a higher risk.”
Dr Giles said those letters would be followed up in the next few weeks.
Action is continuing, we are continuing to work with NSW Farmers, the VFF and Livestock SA on this.
“It is definitely an important one for us to try to get re-instated.”
Livestock SA seeks Q Fever shots for rural residents over 15 years
Livestock SA wants a new National Q Fever Management Program to subsidise Q Fever vaccinations for all individuals over 15 years of age living in rural areas.
Livestock SA president Geoff Power said Q Fever infection had risen in South Australia, with a recent SA Health report stating there had been 27 cases, more than double the same time last year.
“We appreciate and support SA Health’s reminder to livestock workers to be aware of the health risks of Q Fever,” he said.
In 2001 the Australian Government funded a National Q Fever Management Program with systematic delivery of a subsidised Q Fever vaccination service to targeted populations with a high risk of environmental exposure. More than 55,000 people were immunised.
“We believe that there needs to be a new National Q Fever Management Program to ensure those living and working in rural areas are protected from this terrible disease.”
Mr Power said it was vital the Federal Department of Health supported the campaign.
“The livestock sector is a key economic sector of SA, valued at $4.5 billion annually in 2014-15 so it is vital that we protect those who work within this sector,” he said.
“Subsidising a national management program is an important step in protecting these workers from Q Fever, and the potential economic impact it could otherwise have.
“We have also sought the support of the State Government – through SA Health – to back the rollout of a national program.”
Many Q Fever cases could go unreported
Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock president Leonard Vallance said Q Fever is a serious disease and the Federal Government needed to recognise the impact that it has on our rural communities.
“Around 600 cases of the disease are reported in Australia every year, but there could be many more because a large number of unrecognised cases go undetected, mainly due to lack of awareness and availability, as well as cost concerns.”
At a cost of around $400, the current vaccination program was not affordable for all rural residents, Mr Vallance said.
“The Government needs to list the Q Fever vaccine on the PBS so that people can receive a subsidy for the injection, because it is vital to be protected against the disease if you spend time around animals.”
Not all doctors are trained to give the Q Fever injection and regional residents might not have immediate local access to a qualified doctor or consider the process too difficult and costly, he said.
The VFF Livestock Group will soon launch an extensive Q Fever awareness campaign, including industry workshops, preparedness toolkits and advertising.
NSW Farmers urges state and federal government action
NSW Farmers’ Association president Derek Schoen said that organisations from across agricultural, processing, veterinary and public health industries have come together to discuss a way forward on dealing with Q fever as a rural community issue.
“Rural and regional ministers needed to pay attention to the health risks in their electorates, particularly for people working with or around livestock.
“Farmers and rural residents are frustrated that their exposure to Q fever is overlooked by city-focused health policy. Ministers have promised watching briefs on Q fever, but the time has come to take action,” he said.
Mr Schoen said that since 2011, Q fever notifications in NSW have doubled, but access to testing and vaccination remains difficult for rural and remote residents.
“Getting tested and vaccinated means two visits to a qualified doctor.
“For many farmers, this means two long round-trips and too much time away from the farm.”
“NSW Farmers is calling for free testing and vaccination clinics for those most at risk of contracting Q fever,” Mr Schoen said.
“We would like to see an awareness campaign and better training for rural GPs to ensure they can diagnose and treat Q fever.”
Increasingly, Q fever infections are seen in suburban residents working with domestic cats and dogs, he said.
“Q fever is the most important zoonotic disease in Australia and notifications are rising.
“We are lucky to have a vaccine on the market, but we’re concerned about the impacts on the public health system if Q fever risk isn’t addressed by governments.”