Zoonoses are diseases of animals that can cause serious illness in
The two most common zoonoses in Western Australia are LEPTOSPIROSIS and Q FEVER.
Those most likely to be infected by zoonoses include abattoir workers, farm workers, shepherds, shearers, wool sorters, veterinary personnel, pelt and hide tanners, livestock handlers and animal laboratory workers.
A third zoonoses, Brucellosis, has been virtually eradicated in WA, though a few people may still carry this disease.
As zoonoses hazards vary with the type and condition of animals, and the nature of the work being done, safe work procedures, including training, instruction and supervision of employees, should be established through consultation between employers and employees or their safety and health representatives.
How they are caught
Leptospirosis is usually contracted from the urine of infected animals or from contaminated water. The disease gets into your body through cuts in the skin and through the linings of the eyes, nose or throat.
It is most common in pigs and cattle, but sometimes occurs in sheep, dogs and cats.
Q fever is caught by breathing infected material - including contaminated dust - from the afterbirth, birth fluids and excreta of infected animals.
You can also catch it by drinking unpasteurised milk, and by contact with contaminated straw, wool, hair or hides.
Q fever is found in cattle, dairy cows, sheep, goats, bandicoots, kangaroos and wallabies.
Animals carrying Leptospirosis or Q fever may not appear to be sick.
Catching either disease from another infected person is extremely rare.
Symptoms and effects
Initially, both Leptospirosis and Q fever feel like the flu. You may have muscle pains, severe headaches and fever.
Leptospirosis: As it takes hold, you may also have chills, a stiff neck, and be sensitive to light. All symptoms usually ease within 10 days, but may recur.
A serious form of Leptospirosis may cause vomiting and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). The kidneys may be affected and internal bleeding occur, and at this stage it can be fatal.
Q fever may progress from high fever, muscle pain and headache to pneumonia. Some people also develop liver and heart problems.
What is the treatment?
Both Leptospirosis and Q fever can be treated with antibiotics. If you think you may be infected with either disease, see a doctor quickly.
Tell the doctor you have been in contact with animals and may have caught a disease from them, or show your Occupational Health Alert Card.
In the case of either disease, a blood test is needed to confirm infection.
Abattoir workers should be trained to recognise animal carcases infected with Leptospirosis. Any animal with white spots on the kidneys should be processed with great care. Safe work procedures to be considered include the following:
Avoid contact with water that may be contaminated.
Clean benches and floors with detergents or disinfectants.
Eradicate rats and mice.
Farm areas should have good drainage and effluent should be hygienically disposed of.
Pigs and cattle should be raised separately where possible.
Pigs are more likely to get the disease if they are kept in paddocks or on dirt floors. If possible, use mesh floors instead.
Ventilation systems in abattoirs must be designed so the outlet and intake are far enough apart to prevent contaminated material ejected from the outlet being drawn in by the intake. In addition there should be local exhaust ventilation to remove airborne contamination.
All those who work with animals should be protected from breathing contaminated dust or fluid
Any material that may be infected should be disinfected or disposed of hygienically.
Treat any cuts quickly with disinfectant.
Burn afterbirth and contaminated litter.
Milk should be pasteurised or boiled.
Vaccine is available to protect workers at risk from Q fever, but not from Leptospirosis. People who are vaccinated and most people who get Q fever are immune for life. People who work with animals often become immune. Vaccination is recommended where there is an outbreak of the disease, or where people are exposed to this hazard. People who already have immunity may must not be given the vaccine, otherwise there may be unpleasant local reactions.
With Leptospirosis, there are many strains throughout the world, and some countries have developed vaccines against local strains. Human Leptospirosis vaccine is not available in Australia.
People who catch Leptospirosis develop protection against strains they have had.
The best protection against Leptospirosis for people working with live animals is the vaccination of animals likely to become infected. Talk to
the vet about it.