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The Australian Q Fever Register
On 4 April 2002, the NSW Special Minister of State and Minister for Industrial Relations, John Della Bosca, launched the Australian Q Fever Register.

The Q Fever Register is an internet register containing information on the Q Fever immune status of individual workers. Its security provisions are appropriately robust to protect the privacy of registered individuals and organisations.

The Register helps both employers and employees to vaccinate against Q Fever, a growing occupational health and safety risk in the meat processing industry. It covers workers in both NSW and Queensland, where about 90 per cent of cases occur. Using the Register, the Q Fever immunity status of a prospective employee can be checked in a matter of seconds.

What is Q Fever?
Q Fever was first recognised in
Australia in the 1930's, when workers at a Brisbane meat processor became ill with a fever. Since then, cases of the illness have been reported from Australian every state and territory.

Q Fever is caused by the organism Coxielia burnetii, a bacteria which can live in a variety of domestic and wild animals. The organism is particularly hardy and is known to survive in dust or soil for many months.

How do you get Q Fever
The most common cause of infection is by inhalation of contaminated dust. In dry and windy weather, contaminated dust can be blown for over a kilometre. Infection can also occur by way of skin abrasions and splashes of infected material into the eye.

Every year, more than 600 cases of Q Fever are reported nationally. Each year over 200 people are hospitalised as a result of the disease, and there are at least three deaths.

What are the symptoms
Symptoms of Q Fever are usually similar to acute influenza and most sufferers fully recover.

Up to 20 per cent of cases go on to develop a chronic, debilitating ailment called Q Fever Fatigue Syndrome (QFS) - a condition similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

In addition, a small minority of Q Fever sufferers may develop serious cardiac and liver complications.

Who is at risk
Q Fever is a significant occupational illness for the meat processing and agricultural industries. Anyone who works with livestock is at risk, including:

  • farmers
  • agricultural workers
  • shearers
  • transport workers
  • meat workers 
  • dairy workers

What is the cost of Q Fever
A safe and highly effective vaccine for Q Fever has been available since 1989 but many at risk workers have not been immunised. The rate of workers compensation claims for the disease is increasing. Each year more than 1,700 working hours are lost due to Q Fever.

Workers compensation costs are estimated at over $1 million per year with costs generally ranging from $7,000 up to $50,000 for individual cases. Some settlements have been in the region of $500,000.

How do you get vaccinated
The Q Fever vaccination process takes three weeks.

First, both skin and blood tests are carried out. These check whether a person has been previously exposed to Q Fever. Vaccinating a person who has been exposed to the disease can cause dangerous side effects.

It takes one week for results of the skin test to become available. Only then, if both tests are negative, can the person be vaccinated.

Once a person is vaccinated, it takes two weeks for full immunity to develop.

What are the benefits of the Register

In the past, there have been several barriers to vaccination among meat processors. They include:

  • high costs of testing and vaccination
  • a voluntary, worker-held record of vaccination rather than a compulsory, employer-held data base
  • the risks associated with multiple vaccination
  • a highly mobile workforce.

The Q Fever Register benefits both employers and workers by helping break down these barriers. If a person is not on the Register, they are tested. The results of their Q Fever skin and blood tests and the date of vaccination are then entered in the Register.

Using the Register, employers can get immediate confirmation of a potential employee's immune status. Taking on new staff is now easier and more cost effective. Workers can also feel safe in the knowledge that their vaccination information is now held in a central, secure location.

How do you take part in the Register

To participate in the register, contact your union office on 02 4929 5496 or to register direct:

The project was initiated by The Meat Processing Industry sub-group, made up from employer groups and the AMIEU, of WorkCover's Consumer Manufacturing Industry Reference Group.

The Register is jointly funded by two members of the sub-group, the Australian Meat Processor Corporation and Meat and Livestock Australia. WorkCover assisted at the feasibility study stage.

Paul Brown AMIEU Organiser  0411 182 058


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