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.
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.
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.