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Health News

Covid-19 reinfections add to the risk of acute complications and long Covid

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Covid-19 reinfections add to the risk of acute complications and long Covid

Regular screening with very highly sensitive rapid antigen tests are a key factor in reducing transmission

In the early days of the pandemic, it was rare to hear of people catching Covid twice. The Omicron variant that emerged in late November has changed that.

As new variants have emerged, and immunity from previous infection and immunisation has reduced, reinfection with Covid-19 is becoming increasingly common. Some people have been infected four times in the past two years.

A study published in March from the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis found the risk of reinfection has “increased substantially”. This is supported by research from scientists at Imperial College, London that reports the chance of testing positive again is 5.4 times greater with Omicron than Delta.

And now there are several omicron variants circulating around the world, all of which are highly transmissible and very good at overcoming immunity, whether it’s from vaccination, prior infection or both. These omicron variants don’t just evade the protection one may have gained from a non-omicron version of SARS-CoV-2; they make it possible to catch the newer variants of omicron even if the infected person has had the original omicron variant before.

According to a report from July 8, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee acknowledge that reinfections can occur as early as within 28 days and has adjusted the reinfection period from 12 weeks to 28 days.

Of more concern however, is the theory that reinfections may, in fact, be enhancing the disease, where a misfiring immune response to the first infection exacerbates the second. In dengue fever, for example, antibodies to an initial infection can help dengue viruses of another serotype enter cells, leading to a more severe and sometimes fatal second infection. And in other diseases, the first infection triggers ineffective, non-neutralising antibodies and T cells, hampering a more effective response the second time around.

Repeatedly catching Covid-19 appears to increase the chances that a person will face new and sometimes lasting health problems after their infection.

Dr Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist and chief of research and development at Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System compared the health records of more than 250,000 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 one time with records from 38,000 others who had two or more documented Covid-19 infections. More than 5.3 million people with no record of a Covid-19 infection were used as the control group.

Among those with reinfections, 36,000 people had two Covid-19 infections, roughly 2,200 had caught Covid-19 three times and 246 had been infected four times. Common new diagnosis after reinfections included chest pain, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, inflammation of the heart muscle or the sac around the heart, heart failure and blood clots. Common lung issues included shortness of breath, low blood oxygen, lung disease and accumulation of fluid around the lungs.

The study found that the risk of a new health problem was highest around the time of a Covid-19 reinfection, but that it also persisted for at least six months. The increased risk was present whether someone had been vaccinated or not, and it was graded – meaning it increased with each subsequent infection.

Al-Aly said there is this idea that if you have had Covid before, your immune system is trained to recognise it and is more equipped to fight it, and if you’re getting it again, maybe it doesn’t affect you that much – but that just isn’t true. What this study shows is that each infection brings new risk, and that risk accumulates over time.

Even when viruses shape shift – as influenza does – our immune system generally retains its memory of how to recognise and fight off some part of them. They may still make us ill, but the idea is that our prior immunity is there to mount some kind of defence and keep us from serious harm. With coronaviruses, and especially SARS-Cov-2 coronaviruses, the hits just keep coming.

Already there’s another omicron subvariant that has caught the attention of virologists: BA.2.75 was first detected in India in early May. Since then, it’s been found in Europe, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. The chief scientist with the World Health Organisation (WHO), Soumya Swaminathan, has said that BA.2.75 appears to have mutated in a way that could indicate “major immune escape” but it’s too soon to know whether it will overtake BA.5 as the dominant variant.

Graham Gordon, Founder and CEO of Gardian, an Australian-based MedTech company that has developed a robust, and verifiable Covid screening program that effectively eliminates Covid ingress onsite said: “We understand pandemic fatigue, but the virus is not done with us.

“Unfortunately, many people are viewing the pandemic as part of the fabric of modern life rather than an urgent health emergency. There is a significant resurgence, and we’re seeing increasing numbers of infections. Clearly this is a global concern.”

Australia is nearing the numbers of Covid hospitalisations and daily deaths it saw during the January peak, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. As Covid hospitalisations increase, it strains other areas of the health system. And beyond the direct suffering of such a massive outbreak, there are likely to be economic disruptions as tens of thousands of people become too sick to work.

“We are already being warned that a new batch of variants could come out of the blue,” said Gordon. “So, if you are at higher risk of serious illness or just want to avoid getting sick, it’s a good time to be wearing a N95 mask in public and using a rapid antigen test that has a low level of detection (LoD) so that you can detect infection prior to becoming infectious.

“The same precautions used to prevent infection over the past two years are as relevant today as they have always been – wearing masks, social distancing, vaccinations, and a robust screening process are still necessary – and they work just as well for avoiding reinfection.”

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Health Insurance Premiums Skyrocket, Some by 15% or More: CHOICE

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Health Insurance Premiums Skyrocket, Some by 15% or More: CHOICE

 

Should You Consider Self-Insurance? Plus Other Tips to Save!

Consumer group CHOICE has found that many Australians faced significant increases in their health insurance premiums in April, with some premiums rising as much as 17%—far higher than the annual average industry-wide price increase of 3.03%.

“CHOICE reviewed the prices of over 24,000 policies with hospital cover and found Gold policies had the highest premium increases, with average increases above 10% for HBF, HCF, HIF, and Australian Unity policies. One Gold policy in Western Australia even saw a 17% hike,” said CHOICE health insurance expert Jodi Bird.

“With these sky-high increases, it’s worth taking the time to review your health insurance to ensure you’re only paying for what you need, and that you’re getting it at the best possible price,” Bird added.

CHOICE’s Top Tips for Saving on Your Health Insurance

  1. Drop Gold Hospital Insurance

“Gold hospital cover has become too expensive. If you have a specific condition usually covered by Gold policies and want to use the private hospital system, look for a Silver Plus policy or consider self-insurance.”

Self-insurance is an alternative to private health insurance. Instead of paying an insurer, you save money yourself to cover private health costs as they arise. If you don’t need any health treatment, your savings will grow.

“We have found that in some cases, opting to self-fund your health care can be the better-value option,” Bird explained.

For example, cataract surgery, one of the most common surgical procedures in Australia, is often only covered by the most expensive Gold policies. CHOICE’s analysis showed that the annual cost of top-cover health insurance could exceed the out-of-pocket cost for a private cataract procedure.

“This option may only be suitable for people who have few health issues and do not anticipate any unexpected health events. And of course, you need to ensure you have the money set aside in case you require a surgical procedure or treatment in the private system,” Bird advised.

  1. Compare Policies to Find a Good Deal

“We always recommend comparing policies to find the best value policy to suit your needs. The same cover with a different insurer may save you hundreds of dollars a year. Look beyond the well-known big funds and consider smaller funds; switching to a smaller fund often provides a cheaper deal,” said Bird.

“If you’re unsure where to start, CHOICE has an independent health insurance comparison tool that allows you to compare thousands of policies from over 40 insurers,” Bird suggested.

  1. Do You Need Extras Insurance?

“The value of extras insurance really depends on the individual. It can be worth purchasing, but only if you use it enough that it pays out more than the premiums that are coming out of your pocket,” Bird noted.

“If you need extras insurance, shop around and buy your extras from a different provider than your standard hospital cover if you find a better deal,” Bird recommended.

Compare health insurance policies here: CHOICE Health Insurance Comparison Tool

 

For more health news, click here.

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NSW Seniors Urged to Book Free Flu Vaccine Amid Rising Respiratory Illnesses

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NSW Seniors Urged to Book Free Flu Vaccine Amid Rising Respiratory Illnesses

 

People aged 65 and over are being strongly urged to book their free influenza vaccine as respiratory illnesses continue to rise across NSW.

The latest NSW Health Respiratory Surveillance Report, released today, indicates a rapid increase in influenza activity in NSW, with COVID-19 transmission also reaching high levels.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant reported a 27% increase in influenza notifications and a 23% increase in COVID-19 notifications for the week ending 25 May compared to the previous week.

“While everyone aged six months and over is urged to get their influenza vaccine as soon as possible, it is particularly important for those at higher risk of severe illness from the virus,” Dr. Chant said.

“Influenza immunisation rates aren’t where they need to be. Less than half of people aged 65 and over in NSW have received their influenza vaccine this year. We really need to see that number go up, especially as people in this age group are among those most at risk of severe illness.

“We expect the number of influenza cases to quickly increase in the weeks ahead, so now is the time to get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so.”

The influenza vaccine is free and readily available for those at higher risk of severe illness from influenza. It is available through GPs for any age group and through pharmacies for everyone aged five years and over.

Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) Infectious Diseases Paediatrician Dr. Phil Britton noted that influenza notifications are increasing across all age groups, particularly among young children aged three to four years.

“In recent weeks, we have seen influenza cases rising among young children. The best thing parents can do to keep their kids well this winter, and reduce the risk of them being hospitalised due to influenza, is to ensure their children receive a flu vaccine,” Dr. Britton said.

Free Flu Vaccination Eligibility:

  • People aged 65 and over
  • Children aged six months to under five years
  • Aboriginal people from six months of age
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with serious health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, severe asthma, kidney, heart, and lung disease

Steps to Protect Yourself and Others from Respiratory Viruses:

  • Stay up to date with recommended influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Stay home if you are sick and wear a mask if you need to leave home
  • Gather outdoors or in large, well-ventilated spaces with open doors and windows
  • Avoid crowded spaces
  • Consider doing a rapid antigen test (RAT) before visiting people at higher risk of severe illness
  • Talk with your doctor now if you are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or influenza to make a plan about what to do if you get sick, including what test to take, and discussing if you are eligible for antiviral medicines
  • Don’t visit people who are at higher risk of severe illness if you are sick or have tested positive for COVID-19 or influenza
  • Practice good hand hygiene, including regular hand washing

For more information and to book your vaccination, visit your local GP or pharmacy.

 

For more seniors news, click here.

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Mental Health Service Boost in Coffs Harbour with Opening of Medicare Mental Health Centre

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Mental Health Service Boost in Coffs Harbour with Opening of Medicare Mental Health Centre

 

Communities in and around Coffs Harbour will soon benefit from increased mental health support with the opening of a Medicare Mental Health Centre in late June. Healthy North Coast, which delivers the North Coast Primary Health Network program on behalf of the Australian Government, announced today the selection of local not-for-profit organisation Open Minds as the service provider for the new centre.

Monika Wheeler, CEO of Healthy North Coast, emphasised the importance of accessible mental health services. “It is estimated that 43% of Australians will experience mental health distress at some point in their lives. It is vitally important we have a range of mental health services that are easily accessed in times of need,” she stated.

The new centre will offer free, walk-in mental health services with no appointments or referrals necessary. This model is designed to provide immediate and tailored support to individuals in need. Wheeler highlighted the success of a similar initiative: “Our Lismore Centre, also run by Open Minds, opened in 2022 and has delivered over 9,000 sessions and supported more than 1,000 people. We’re confident that the Coffs Harbour Centre will be a welcome addition for residents looking for a tailored experience and connection to the right support for them and their circumstances, which are different for everyone.”

Rik Barker, General Manager of Integrated Mental Health Services (NSW) at Open Minds, welcomed the announcement. “We look forward to opening the doors in Coffs and delivering a quality mental health service, improving the wellbeing of people on the Mid North Coast,” he said.

Key Features of the New Centre

  • Staffing: The centre will be staffed by mental health and allied health professionals available to visitors based on their level of need. There will also be a Social and Emotional Wellbeing Worker for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients, in partnership with Galambila Aboriginal Health Service.
  • Location and Hours: The centre will be co-located with the Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre in Block B of the Community Village, 22 Earl Street, Coffs Harbour. Initial hours of operation will be 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday, with provisions for targeted/appointment-based services for up to four hours on Saturdays.
  • Accessibility: Residents can visit the centre without prior appointments, and services are free of charge.

Wheeler explained the community’s enthusiastic response to the new centre, noting its welcoming space and easy accessibility. She also encouraged those unable to visit in person to utilize the free Head to Health service by calling 1800 595 212 for phone-based support.

Additional Information

  • Crisis Services: The Medicare Mental Health Centres are not intended for crisis or emergency services. For urgent support, individuals should contact Lifeline at 13 11 14 or the Mental Health Access Line at 1800 011 511. For immediate help or if at risk of harm, calling 000 is advised.

For more information and updates, visit here.

 

For more Coffs Harbour news, click here.

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