A life-changing disease

RAISING AWARENESS: Alfina Cavallaro of Bega now lives with chronic fatigue as a result of developing Q fever a year ago. Picture: Albert McKnight

RAISING AWARENESS: Alfina Cavallaro of Bega now lives with chronic fatigue as a result of developing Q fever a year ago. Picture: Albert McKnight

A Bega woman’s life took an unpleasant turn 12 months ago when she contracted Q fever. 

“It’s taken a year out of my life and it will probably take another year,” Alfina Cavallaro said earlier this month. 

In March last year, Ms Cavallaro was working at a Bega Valley farm helping milk 12,000 cows a day when she believes she got the disease from an infected animal. 

She said it started with a cough before she developed sores in her mouth and her skin starting looking yellow.

“I was tired, staying in bed all the time freezing cold one minute then I’d have the blankets off the next,” she said. 

A problem with Q fever is that it is relatively unknown. 

There can even be issues in the medical profession, as Ms Cavallaro said the first time she went to the doctor she asked if it could be the disease – which she calls “the Q” – but they said no. 

It was only after multiple visits to doctors and a stint in hospital that she was diagnosed with an acute form of the disease 10 weeks after being tested.

She is not alone, as last year there were seven confirmed cases in the Bega Valley. 

Q fever is caused by a bacteria that is spread to humans from infected animals and is particularly concentrated in animals’ placentas. 

While most infections last two to six weeks, occasionally people develop chronic infections that can lead to chronic fatigue or an inflammation of the heart. 

Ms Cavallaro developed chronic fatigue, which has left her out of work. 

While she used to be a very active person, nowadays she lives “on the couch and the bed”. 

Some days she does housework or goes shopping, but then has to stay in bed for the next two days due to fatigue. 

There is a vaccine available for Q fever, which costs around $400, and while Ms Cavallaro was aware of it she was unable to have it due to medical reasons. 

“While I think everyone that can get immunized should get immunized, I do think farmers have a  responsibility to make sure afterbirth is disposed of correctly as some just leave it around their farms,” she said. 

She said another issue was lack of awareness in the farming community, as the disease was never discussed at two of the three farms she worked at in the last 10 years.  

Now, the owner of the farm where she believes she contracted Q fever makes sure anyone that works there  is immunized. 

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