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Q fever: Petting zoo infection warning after QLD mum blisters and turns blue with painful illness

A Gold Coast mother-of-two has a warning for parents visiting petting zoos after she contracted a rare disease.

Even though Jade Strang, 29, used the hand sanitiser provided by a petting zoo she visited with her children early last month, she is a nail-biter, and fears this may be how she contracted the excruciating Q fever.

Q fever is an infection is caused by the bacterium Coxiella burnetii which spreads between animals, and can infect humans who breathe in airborne bacteria particles or who handle infected animals, according to NSW Health.

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Symptoms of the disease usually set in as soon as two weeks after it is contracted, but it was on August 3, four weeks after Strang’s July 4 visit to the petting zoo, that the debilitating signs of sickness first set in.

Blistering under the eyes, burning fingertips, and a body which turned blue with bruising were just some of the terrifying symptoms that Jade has experienced after a day out.

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“I had given this goat a pat while my kids were running around,” Strang told 7NEWS.com.au.

“As I left the petting zoo I used the hand sanitiser but, I believe because I’m a nail-biter, that I haven’t sanitised my nails completely, and then I’ve bitten my nails. I think that’s how I could have got it.”

Strang first attributed the onset of fatigue to a boring day at work, but it soon became clear the catalyst was far more serious.

“I was so tired. I put it down to the fact that I was on the computer and that’s the job I hated doing,” Strang said. “I missed my alarm the next morning, and that’s when I started to feel really, really ill.

“I thought I had contracted dengue fever from a mosquito bite or something like that. Q fever hadn’t even crossed my mind. I didn’t even know it existed.”

Worryingly, neither did most of the doctors, nor the multiple nurses, who saw Strang. “They’d never heard of anyone with it,” she said.

Jade Strang, 29, was hospitalised with painful symptoms of Q fever, which she believes she contracted at a petting zoo. Credit: Supplied

Despite a lack of awareness among many of the medical staff treating Strang, workplaces across Australia’s animal industries — from agriculture to abattoirs — offer Q fever vaccinations to their employees.

There were 177 workers’ compensation claims totalling over $3.5 million for Q fever in NSW between 2002 and 2012, according to SafeWork NSW.

‘Just in agony’

Strang has also been wracked with intense nausea, can smell non-existent gas, and seen her pupils dilate to different sizes in each eye — but the mum said the “freakiest” symptom “was the full-body arthritis”, which has since subsided.

“I was waking up and just in agony,” she said. It was an Endone-resistant burning in her fingertips that sent her to the hospital’s acute ward, scared she would lose a limb.

Nine days after her first symptoms, she received a diagnosis.

It’s too early to know how long Strang’s Q fever and symptoms will last, but as pathologists continue to run tests, she is determined to “push through”.

Some days she feels fine, and other days she is completely immobile, requiring her family to help her to shower and dress — she hasn’t had a single day where her symptoms match those of the day before.

But parenting duties, such as picking up and dropping off her kids, aged 10 and five, from school, are helping to keep some normality in her daily life, which is now consumed almost entirely by bed rest.

Symptoms of Q fever can last up to six weeks when untreated, but some people also go on to develop other chronic illnesses, according to NSW Health.

“About 10 per cent of patients who are sick with acute Q fever go on to suffer from a chronic-fatigue-like illness which can be very debilitating for years,” NSW Health reports.

“Occasionally, people develop chronic infections up to two years later, which can cause a range of health issues including heart problems (endocarditis).”

Children feeding animals at a petting zoo. Credit: Fran Polito/Getty Images

Q fever is a reportable disease, like COVID, which means that Strang will need to assist with contract tracing once the pathology lab notifies the state’s public health unit to investigate the case.

Unlike Strang, animals infected with Q fever often do not show any symptoms, and the harmful bacteria can travel kilometres in the wind, which can make it difficult to detect.

Strang has not publicly named the petting zoo, as she is not completely sure exactly where she contracted the disease, and said: “I can’t prove it was from them, but they’re the only animals I’ve been in contact with.”

She has warned other parents: “If you or your children do go to a petting zoo or handle farm animals, please use the sanitiser provided.”

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