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Health News

COVID Casts a Long Shadow

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Covid-19 Impact

COVID Casts a Long Shadow

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably left a profound and lasting impact on societies worldwide, casting a long shadow that continues to influence our daily lives, economies, and collective psyche. As we navigate the complex challenges and uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, its effects reverberate across multiple facets of our existence, shaping our present realities and shaping the trajectory of our future.

Healthcare Crisis

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First and foremost, COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities within healthcare systems globally, testing their resilience and capacity to respond to public health emergencies. The overwhelming influx of patients, shortages of medical supplies and personnel, and the strain on healthcare infrastructure have underscored the need for robust preparedness and proactive measures to address future health crises effectively.

Economic Disruption

The pandemic has unleashed unprecedented economic disruption, triggering widespread job losses, business closures, and financial instability. Supply chain disruptions, reduced consumer spending, and fluctuations in global markets have exacerbated economic inequalities and pushed millions into poverty, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive recovery strategies and support mechanisms for vulnerable populations.

Social Impacts

Socially, COVID-19 has brought about profound shifts in how we interact, communicate, and connect with one another. Physical distancing measures, lockdowns, and travel restrictions have reshaped social norms and behaviors, leading to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and mental health challenges. The pandemic has also laid bare existing social inequities, disproportionately affecting marginalised communities and exacerbating underlying societal divisions.

Covid-19 Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably left a profound and lasting impact on societies worldwide, casting a long shadow that continues to influence our daily lives, economies, and collective psyche.

Educational Transformation

The education sector has undergone rapid transformation in response to the pandemic, with widespread school closures and the adoption of remote learning modalities. While technology has enabled continuity of learning, the digital divide has widened, exacerbating disparities in access to quality education and exacerbating existing educational inequalities.

Environmental Repercussions

Despite temporary reductions in pollution levels during lockdowns, the pandemic has underscored the interconnectedness of human health and the environment. Zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 highlight the risks associated with habitat destruction, wildlife trade, and unsustainable land-use practices, emphasising the need for a more holistic approach to environmental stewardship and biodiversity conservation.

Resilience and Adaptation

Amidst the challenges posed by COVID-19, stories of resilience, innovation, and community solidarity have emerged, demonstrating humanity’s capacity to adapt and persevere in the face of adversity. From frontline healthcare workers risking their lives to save others to grassroots initiatives providing essential support to vulnerable populations, the pandemic has sparked acts of compassion, empathy, and collective action.

As we continue to grapple with the far-reaching effects of COVID-19, it is imperative that we draw upon the lessons learned from this crisis to forge a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient future. By prioritising investments in public health infrastructure, fostering social cohesion, promoting economic recovery strategies that prioritise inclusivity and sustainability, and addressing systemic inequities, we can emerge from the shadow of COVID-19 stronger, more united, and better prepared to confront the challenges of tomorrow.

 

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Health News

Accessing medical care when it’s urgent

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Healthdirect

Accessing medical care when it’s urgent

 

People in northern NSW are being reminded of the care options that are available to them, as winter illnesses continue to impact the local community and the region’s busy emergency departments (EDs).

Northern NSW Local Health District Chief Executive, Tracey Maisey said those with nonlife-threatening conditions are encouraged to call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for fast and free health advice from a registered nurse. You can also check your symptoms and find a service online at Healthdirect.gov.au or on the Healthdirect app.

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“When you call Healthdirect, a registered nurse will assess your condition and guide you to the care you need, which could be a local health service, such as urgent care service, or connect you with a virtual care service,” Ms Maisey said.

“Hospitals in northern NSW are extremely busy this winter, with high numbers of ED presentations month on month. Across the District, we are seeing an average of 622 people present to our EDs each day, which is higher than the same time last year.

“By utilising services like Healthdirect, we can ensure our busy EDs are reserved for the most urgent and high-level care that can’t be accessed anywhere else.”

Ms Maisey also reminded the community there are a few simple steps people can take to help protect themselves and their loved ones from respiratory illnesses.

“The most important thing to do is booking in for your flu vaccine if you haven’t already – it is not too late. Please stay home if you are sick. If you are unwell and need to leave home, please wear a mask and avoid high-risk settings including aged care and hospitals,” Ms Maisey said.

Chief Executive of Healthy North Coast Monika Wheeler said in recent years there has also been significant investment to enhance primary care access in northern NSW.

“If you can’t get a quick appointment with your regular general practice or care provider, there are several free, local options available for urgent care needs,” Ms Wheeler said.

“Healthy North Coast is also supporting the Australian Government’s establishment of a GP-led Medicare Urgent Care Clinic in Lismore. The clinic is open seven days a week from 7.30am to 7.30pm, and accepts walk-ins, with no appointment needed.

“If you have a life-threatening emergency, call Triple Zero (000) or go to an ED. Examples of life-threatening emergencies include chest pressure or pain lasting more than 10 minutes, difficulty breathing, uncontrollable bleeding, or sudden collapse.”

Lismore Medicare Urgent Care Clinic

No appointment needed, walk-ins welcome. Open 7 days a week. The clinic provides free, immediate treatment to Medicare Card holders for non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses. Services include treatment for respiratory illnesses, gastroenteritis, minor infections, burns or cuts, sprains and sports injuries, STIs, bites and rashes, eye and ear infections.

Members of the community may also be directed to Lismore Medicare Urgent Care Clinic by calling Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 or via the North Coast Health Connect website.

 

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Health News

Whooping Cough and Pneumonia Cases Surge in NSW, Posing Significant Risk to Children

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Whooping Cough and Pneumonia

Whooping Cough and Pneumonia Cases Surge in NSW, Posing Significant Risk to Children

 

Whooping cough rates have surged to their highest levels in nearly a decade in New South Wales (NSW), and the number of young children hospitalised with pneumonia has more than doubled compared to the same period last year, according to state health data.

Pertussis Cases Reach Alarming Levels

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The latest NSW Health respiratory surveillance report reveals that there have been 103.1 notifications of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, per 100,000 people in the state so far this year. The last time figures were this high was in 2016, with a rate of 139.6 per 100,000.

Professor Robert Booy, an infectious diseases paediatrician at the University of Sydney, attributes the rise to several viruses and bacteria, including pertussis and mycoplasma, actively spreading, particularly among primary school-aged children.

“Both [pertussis and mycoplasma] are causing pneumonia, leading to hospital admissions, emergency department presentations, and the need for antibiotic treatment,” said Professor Booy.

Public Health Advisory

NSW Health advises individuals to stay home if unwell and to wear a mask if going out is necessary, in an effort to reduce the spread of these respiratory illnesses.

Young People Particularly at Risk

Health data indicates that pneumonia rates among children aged zero to 16 are “unseasonably high” and exceed levels recorded in the past five years. In early June this year, nearly 140 children under the age of four presented to emergency departments with pneumonia, compared to fewer than 60 at the same time last year. For children aged five to 16, the number was 400, up from fewer than 50 last year.

The increase is attributed to a specific strain of pneumonia, commonly referred to as “walking pneumonia.” The report states that Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a frequent cause of pneumonia in school-aged children, with epidemics occurring every three to five years. The last epidemic in NSW occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Expert Insights

Dr. Rebekah Hoffman, chair of the NSW and ACT branch of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, noted that while most individuals contracting Mycoplasma pneumoniae would remain “quite well,” they might suffer from a persistent cough for several weeks or months. “For some kids, especially if they are immunocompromised or have other respiratory problems, they might get really sick and need hospitalization,” Dr. Hoffman said.

Both Dr. Hoffman and Professor Booy highlighted that social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in 2020 and 2021, resulted in children not being exposed to other respiratory illnesses, such as whooping cough and pneumonia. Professor Booy explained that the absence of exposure created a group of susceptible young children who are now developing and spreading whooping cough in school and other settings.

Resurgence Patterns

Whooping cough typically surges every three to six years, but due to the pandemic, this interval has now stretched to six to eight years. Dr. Hoffman noted that the spike in respiratory illnesses reflects young people “catching up” on infections they missed in previous years. She expressed surprise at the significant increase in whooping cough rates.

Professor Booy emphasized the seriousness of whooping cough for certain groups, particularly newborn babies. “The children at most risk are the very young… they need protection from their mother being vaccinated during pregnancy to develop antibodies which pass to the baby before it’s even born,” he said.

The health department data also indicated that COVID-19 cases remain “high” in the state.

Conclusion

The surge in whooping cough and pneumonia cases in NSW is a significant public health concern, particularly for young children. Continued vigilance, vaccination, and adherence to public health guidelines are essential to manage and mitigate the spread of these illnesses.

 

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Health News

Mental Well-Being Crucial for Healthy Aging, New Study Reveals

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Mental Well-Being HEALTHY AGING

Mental Well-Being Crucial for Healthy Aging, New Study Reveals

 

A recent study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour has established the significant impact of mental well-being on healthy aging. The research evaluated the causal effects of mental well-being on genetically independent aging phenotypes (aging GIP), providing new insights into the relationship between mental health and aging.

Key Findings:

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  • Human Longevity and Challenges: While human life expectancy has increased over time, the aging population poses challenges for both individuals and society. Mental well-being is known to correlate with lifestyle behaviours and morbidity and is linked to physical health and increased survival.
  • Socioeconomic Status (SES) Connection: Socioeconomic status (SES) is interlinked with both aging and mental well-being, but a direct causal relationship between mental well-being and healthy aging had yet to be established until now.

Study Overview:

Researchers utilised Mendelian randomisation (MR) to assess the effects of mental well-being on aging phenotypes. Summary-level genome-wide association study (GWAS) data from people of European descent were used. The exposures included various well-being traits such as life satisfaction, neuroticism, depressive symptoms, and positive affect. SES indicators—education, occupation, and income—were also considered.

A total of 106 candidate mediators were screened, including lifestyle factors, physical function traits, diseases, and behaviours. These mediators were selected based on their causal association with aging GIP and the well-being spectrum.

Methodology:

  • Linkage Disequilibrium Score Regression: This was used to examine genetic correlations between mental well-being traits, aging phenotypes, and SES indicators.
  • Univariable and Multivariable MR Analyses: These analyses were performed to assess the causal effects of mediators and mental well-being traits on aging phenotypes and to investigate the impact of SES indicators on mental well-being traits.
  • Two-Step MR Analysis: This tested the mediating effects between the well-being spectrum and aging GIP.

Results:

  • Genetic Correlations: Positive genetic correlations were observed between all mental well-being traits and aging GIP components (except for longevity). The well-being spectrum was linked to increased aging GIP, resilience, health span, parental lifespan, and self-rated health.
  • Positive and Negative Associations: Positive affect and life satisfaction were positively associated with aging phenotypes, while depressive symptoms and neuroticism were inversely associated.
  • SES and Well-Being: Higher income, education, and occupation were causally linked to improved mental well-being. The well-being spectrum independently correlated with higher aging GIP, even after adjusting for SES indicators.

Mediators:

Out of 106 candidate mediators, 33 met the criteria for inclusion. Key findings included:

  • Unhealthier Lifestyle Factors: These were associated with lower aging GIP.
  • Positive Influences: Factors such as later smoking initiation age, higher cheese consumption, appendicular lean mass (ALM), cognitive performance, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), and fresh fruit intake were associated with higher aging GIP.
  • Significant Diseases: Heart failure, hypertension, stroke, and coronary heart disease had the highest effect sizes on aging GIP.

Several factors, including antihypertensive medication, smoking initiation age, and television watching time, mediated at least 7% of the effect of the well-being spectrum on aging GIP. Other mediators, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, waist-to-hip ratio, and fresh fruit intake, also played significant roles.

Conclusion

The study illustrated the causal effects of mental well-being on aging phenotypes independent of SES. Better mental well-being was linked to improved aging GIP, with the causal effect partly explained by various mediators, including lifestyle factors, physical functions, diseases, and behaviours. These findings underscore the importance of prioritising mental well-being to promote healthy aging.

 

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