Rickettsia And Q Fever

In 1935 Rickettsia was discovered in Australia after two Brisbane doctors compared notes.  These doctors found they both treating Abattoir workers who suffering from prolonged flu.  They noticed a combined with symptoms similar to typhoid. As a result, this research was handed over to the Queensland Health Department.

It was established that Abattoir workers were constantly being affected some type of organism. This research lead them to discover tiny clusters of Rickettsia bacteria. The species took the name of Coxiella Burnetti. This was a significant triumph for Australian, since this disease had previously gone unrecognised.

Consequently, when the findings of this bacterium and its antibodies were published, Rickettsia showed up all over the world, which explained mystifying epidemics in Europe during World War II when thousands of troops on both sides were struck down. It particularly affected soldiers who stationed in Greece and Italy.

Consequently, the most significant source of human infection are cattle, sheep and goats. Some 400 to 600 human infections are notified in Australia each year. Rickettsia or is an acute illness with fever, chills, muscle pains and other occasional long term complications. Initial symptoms can reappear or even persist.  It is spread by contact with animal faeces and urine, inhaling infected air, dust or water particles.

Rickettsia is a zoonosis genus of micro-organisms.  A bite of the host is the means of transmitting the organisms.  Some of which are responsible for the typhus group of fevers.

How Rickettsia is transmitted?

As a consequence, it is an occupational hazard particularly for abattoir workers, meat inspectors, shearers, wool sorters, laboratory technicians and veterinarians.

Rickettsia is spread in urban areas from ticks which are carried by warm-blooded animals such as bandicoots and spiny anteaters (Echidnas) carry this disease in suburban areas.  It can also be carried by kangaroos, wallabies, possums, koalas, dingos, rats, mice, ducks, magpies, chickens, reptiles, and even domesticated animals such as cats and dogs.

 

Engorged Ticks may cause Q Fever
Ticks that carry Q Fever spread Rickettsia

What are Ticks and why do they make us unwell?

Ticks are born parasites. There are around 70 species of ticks in Australia.  Ticks live in the ground where their eggs incubate in moist humid leafy environments. They then hatch into larvae where they climb vegetation waiting to jump onto a host. After engorging themselves with blood, they drop to the ground to moult. The larva then becomes a nymph, which crawls onto vegetation awaiting a new host repeating the whole process. Once the nymph moults and becomes an adult, they go into a mating cycle. They male dies after mating and the female finds a third host.

As a result, this is where the danger lies, as the female adult releases toxins via its saliva, which enters the host. The engorged female then drops to the ground and spends three weeks laying 2,500 to 3,000 eggs before dying. This whole process takes one year depending on temperature, humidity and moisture.  

Care must be taking when removing ticks. Carefully slide the open blades over each side of the tick. Then gently lever it outwards without squeezing it.  Another reason for careful removal is due to the long barbs which form part of their mouth piece.

How do we come in contact with Rickettsia or Q Fever Micro-organism?

Cattle excrete the micro-organism in their milk and faeces. Breathing in contaminated dust and water particles are the most common ways infection occurs.  Drinking infected milk can spread Rickettsia, as it is resistant to most methods of pasteurisation. Only the high-temperature short-time method of pasteurisation is the only way to destroy the micro-organisms in milk.

Coxiella Burnetti is extremely virulent, as even one bacterium can cause infection. It survives for months in dust, wool, animal hides, clothing, straw, packing materials and faeces particles. The organism localises in the mammary glands, uterus and faeces of animals.

What are the Symptoms of Rickettsia or Q Fever?

Early signs of Q Fever include severe headaches, high fever, chills, muscle pain and general malaise. After an incubation period from two days up to four weeks; symptoms suddenly appear including fever, prostration, cough, and muscle and chest pain. Others symptoms may include dry non-productive cough, pleurisy, anorexia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

In addition, the disease can be acute or chronic but it is rarely fatal.  About half the cases with symptoms will have pneumonia evident in chest X-rays. Flu is a common misdiagnosis. Chronic Q Fever occurs more commonly in city dwellers, rather than in rural inhabitants.  Exposure to domestic ruminants and raw milk is often the reason for this.

How does Rickettsia or Q Fever affect Physiology?

Symptoms of Rickettsia are fever, malaise, enlargement of the liver and occasionally jaundice.  Furthermore, issues that may occur include Endocarditis,hepatitis, issues with heart valves including the aorta, enlargement of the liver and spleen, arterial emboli and purpuric (purple) skin rashes.

People who have had Glandular Fever, Ross River Fever or Epstein Barr Virus may be more prone to Q Fever.  Not everyone gets Q Fever if they have prior immunity. Consequently, Rickettsia leads to Infectious Mononucleosis, chronic Hepatitis, Encephalitis, Osteomyelitis and Pneumonia.

 

Sources

Australia’s Dangerous Creatures, David Underhill (Reader’s Digest Sydney)

Bailliere’s Australian Nurses’ Dictionary, Burr Brooker Weller Wells

First Aid – Responding To Emergencies, Australian Red Cross

Family Health And Medical Guide, Hearst Books

Principles Of Anatomy And Physiology, Tortora Grabowski

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