Spreading the word on Q fever infection, vaccine

Kay Foulsham has had T-shirts printed up outlining the risk of Q fever, urging people to seek out information and get vaccinated.
Kay Foulsham has had T-shirts printed up outlining the risk of Q fever, urging people to seek out information and get vaccinated.

Kay Foulsham is a woman with a mission.

Ms Foulsham once managed a 25,000-acre cattle station in Queensland with her partner as well as worked as a cook at the neighbouring station.

She said she’s no stranger to hard work, with a resume including inland oil rigs as well as outback cattle stations.

Now she lives out of a van, requires continual medical checks and can’t even do anything as strenuous as mowing her mum’s lawn in Pambula.

Ms Foulsham said she contracted Q-fever in late 2013 and was hospitalised for eight weeks.

Kay Foulsham contracted Q fever while working on cattle stations in Queensland six years ago. Now she's spreading the word on getting informed and vaccinated.

Kay Foulsham contracted Q fever while working on cattle stations in Queensland six years ago. Now she's spreading the word on getting informed and vaccinated.

She still suffers from chronic fatigue, regular flare-ups of swollen joints and arthritis-type pain, and problems with her heart.

“It will be with me until the day I die – people don’t understand how serious it is,” she said.

Due to contracting Q fever and the resulting ongoing health issues, she lost her ability to work, her partner, her home and her beloved horses.

Now she travels through the region emblazoned with a warning of the risks of Q fever and a willingness to talk to anyone who will listen – and she’s a great talker!

I’m not shy, I’ll talk to anyone. I’m trying to save lives.

Kay Foulsham

“I go into pubs wearing the T-shirt and just call out – ‘hey boys, put down your beers and read this’. I’m not shy, I’ll talk to anyone.

“I’m trying to save lives.”

Q fever is a bacteria that doesn't react to standard antibiotics, it presents flu-like symptoms, can damage the liver and the heart, and, if untreated, could lead to long-term fatigue or death.

The airborne bacteria is caught from animals, mainly cattle, goats and sheep, mostly through birthing fluids or blood, with farmers and abattoir workers most at risk, although it can also be carried in dust.

It is also not restricted to farm animals, with kangaroos also said to be a carrier.

“I was diagnosed over the Christmas break of 2013-2014,” Ms Foulsham said.

“I lost a horrendous amount of weight, I was lethargic, no energy, a high fever and the ‘shakes and drakes’,” she said – “drakes” being internal shaking she felt.

“I was out to the world, delirious and burning up. Even after I was released from hospital with antibiotics, every time it got hot I passed out.”

Q fever usually develops two–three weeks after exposure and can include high fevers and chills; severe sweats; severe headaches, often behind the eyes; muscle and joint pains; and extreme fatigue.

While most infections last two to six weeks, occasionally people develop chronic infections and it can lead to chronic fatigue or an inflammation of the heart and is sometimes associated with hepatitis or pneumonia.  

Kay Foulsham's van is almost all she has left after losing her partner, home and job due to contracting Q fever and the chronic health issues that resulted.

Kay Foulsham's van is almost all she has left after losing her partner, home and job due to contracting Q fever and the chronic health issues that resulted.

Ms Foulsham said when she was hospitalised, there was little knowledge there was a public vaccine available. However, it appears not much has changed.

“I went to the Cooma Saleyards the other day, and no-one there had had the vaccination!” Ms Foulsham said.

“It’s so important for anyone who works with animals, not just cattle farms and abattoirs.

“I believe it’s a matter of negligence for bosses or the government if their people aren’t vaccinated.”

Vaccines are available for around $400, although there have been repeated calls over the years to make it available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Labor has also pledged to fund 8000 vaccinations for at-risk residents in rural and regional NSW as part of its $4million commitment to combat Q fever should it win the upcoming state election.

Regardless, Ms Foulsham said with the loss of her livelihood, her partner, her home, her animals, and her future ability to work – $400 is a small price to pay.

Q Fever Clinic in Bega

Dr Konrad Reardon and Dr Duncan MacKinnon at Bega Valley Medical Practice have undergone training to administer the Q fever vaccination. 

A monthly “Q Fever Clinic” is available for anyone in the community who is over 16 years of age.

This involves two 30 minute appointments, scheduled one week apart.

The first visit involves a consultation with the doctor, the completion of a brief questionnaire and a skin test.  The patient is then referred to a pathology provider for a blood test.  This will determine if the patient is eligible for the Q fever vaccine.

The second visit is to review the results and administer the vaccination if required.

The cost can vary depending on whether the patient is a private patient or attending as part of their workplace requirement.

Attempts have been made to reduce costs significantly compared to the past but still need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Pathology testing may incur an additional cost set by the pathology provider – some local providers may bulk bill.

Any member of the public can come and see Dr Reardon or Dr MacKinnon for Q fever vaccination, but should continue to see their usual GP for all other health matters.

Call Bega Valley Medical Practice on 6492 3333 to book a Q fever consultation, or more information regarding Q fever is available from www.bvmp.com.au

There are also qualified Q Fever vaccination doctors at Bermagui and Cobargo medical centres.

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