Identifying scenarios and risk factors for Q fever outbreaks using qualitative analysis of expert opinion

Tabita Su En Tan, Marta Hernandez-Jover, Lynne Maree Hayes, Anke Katrin Wiethoelter, Simon Matthew Firestone, Mark Anthony Stevenson, Jane Heller

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Q fever is an important zoonotic disease perceived to be an occupational hazard for those working with livestock. Outbreaks involving large numbers of people are uncommon, but the increasing case incidence coupled with changing environmental and industry conditions that promote transmission of Q fever has raised concerns that large and serious outbreaks could become more frequent. The aim of this study was to use expert opinion to better understand how large Q fever outbreaks might occur in an Australian context and to document factors believed to be drivers of disease transmission. Focus groups were conducted with human and animal health professionals across several Australian states. All discussions were recorded, transcribed verbatim and imported into NVIVO for thematic analysis. Four anthropogenic risk factors (disease awareness, industry practices, land use, human behaviour) and three ecological risk factors (physical environment, agent dissemination, animal hosts) emerged from the data. Analysis of expert opinions pointed to the existence of numerous scenarios in which Q fever outbreaks could occur, many of which depict acquisition in the wider community outside of traditional at-risk occupations. This perception of the expansion of Q fever from occupational-acquisition to community-acquisition is driven by greater overarching economic, political and socio-cultural influences that govern the way in which people live and work. Findings from this study highlight that outbreaks are complex phenomena that involve the convergence of diverse elements, not just that of the pathogen and host, but also the physical, political and socioeconomic environments in which they interact. A review of the approaches to prevent and manage Q fever outbreaks will require a multisectorial approach and strengthening of community education, communication and engagement so that all stakeholders become an integrated part of outbreak mitigation and response.

Original languageEnglish
JournalZoonoses and Public Health
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


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