Science and Technology

New funds tackling Q Fever

The government is investing more than $500,000 in a research project to investigate ways of limiting the spread of the Q Fever disease in animals and its transmission to people.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce announced the investment at the Primex Field Days in Casino, and said the $514,500 funding would go to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) under Round Two of the Government’s Rural Research and Development for Profit Programme.

“The government values Australia’s agricultural industries and understands the importance of properly funded research to connect our farmers with cutting-edge research, technology, products and processes so they remain world-class,” Minister Joyce said.

“This project is focused on the health and wellbeing of workers in the agriculture sector, which will have flow on benefits in terms of better returns for farmers, more money flowing through local businesses and the security of local jobs in rural, regional and remote communities.”

Mr Joyce said the organism that causes Q Fever is present across a variety of domestic and wild animals and their attendant ticks, including cattle, sheep, feral and domestic goats, kangaroos and rodents.

“The disease is easily transmissible through the bodily fluids and faeces of these animals and can survive harsh environmental conditions for more than a year in some instances,” he said.

“While Q Fever doesn’t have a dramatic impact on domestic stock and wildlife, it can be quite easily passed on to people, who can suffer anything from relatively mild illness right through to serious complications and lifelong effects.

Managing Director at RIRDC John Harvey said the Q Fever research that the government is funding will involve studying the disease within commercial dairy goat herds in rural areas of South Australia, Victoria and Queensland.

“Intensively-managed dairy goat herds provide conditions favourable for the amplification and spread of Q Fever,” Mr Harvey said.

“A large-scale Q Fever outbreak would be catastrophic in terms of human health and for Australia’s dairy goat industry.”

Mr Joyce said since Q Fever can also spread among native animals, the project will also investigate its distribution in kangaroos.

“By studying the factors which contribute to animals acting as Q Fever ‘reservoirs’, we can consider methods and techniques for limiting the risk of spreading the disease in both human and animal populations,” he said.

“The results of the study will also contribute to the development of national guidelines for an emergency response plan in the event of a Q Fever outbreak amongst humans.

“A vaccine is already available for people who work closely with livestock, such as dairy farmers, graziers, vets and abattoir workers – but knowing more about how animals act as Q Fever ‘reservoirs’ and how to tackle the spread of the disease between animals and people will save a lot of time, money and stress.

“Our grant will be matched by more than $1.1 million in cash and in-kind contributions by RIRDC and its partner organisations, which include the Universities of Melbourne, Sydney, Queensland, Adelaide, Charles Sturt University, the Meredith Dairy, Goat Veterinary Consultancies and the Australian Rickettsial Research Laboratory.”

The funding for the project comes from Round Two of the government’s Rural R&D for Profit Programme, which is delivering $52 million for a range of research projects focusing on soil, water and natural resource management, advanced technology, biosecurity and on-farm adoption of R&D.

The government has so far allocated $78 million for innovative agricultural projects under the R&D for Profit Programme. The government is investing a further $100 million as part of the $4 billion Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper to extend the programme to 2021-22. This funding is on top of $700 million the government already invests in rural R&D each year.

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