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Health News

Flu numbers explode, over 65s most at risk

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Flu North Coast

Flu numbers explode, over 65s most at risk

 

By Tim Howard

An explosion in flu cases across the state has prompted North Coast health authorities to urge people over 65 to book in for their free flu jabs as the virus continues to surge across the state.

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Director of North Coast Population and Public Health Dr Valerie Delpech said a recent surveillance report revealed there had been a 25% jump in flu diagnoses in a week.

“Flu is rapidly increasing across the state,” Dr Delpech said. “In the past week alone presentations to NSW emergency departments increased by almost 22% for people with influenza-like illness.

“We are expecting the flu season will be around for several weeks to come, so now is the time to book in for your free flu vaccine to get the vital protection you need.”

Dr Delpech said the more elderly, who were in greater need of the protection vaccination offered, were lagging behind in vaccination rates.

“At present, just half of people 65 and over (52.4 per cent) in NSW have received their flu vaccine,” she said.

The doctor said with influenza, COVID-19 and RSV all circulating in the community, health services reminded the community to avoid visiting high-risk settings including hospitals and aged care facilities if they are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness.

“Vaccination is the best protection against infection and severe disease,” Dr Delpech said. “Everyone, but particularly those at increased risk of severe disease, is urged to get vaccinated now. By getting vaccinated you also help protect those around you.”

She said the influenza vaccine was free and readily available for those at higher risk of severe illness from influenza from GPs for any age group, as well as through pharmacies for everyone aged five years and over.

Flu North Coast

South Grafton pharmacist Michael Troy was part of a successful campaign for a law change to allow pharmacists to vaccinate against the flu. He urges people to get regular flu shots ahead of every flu season.

Those considered to be at higher risk of severe illness from influenza who are eligible for free vaccination include:

  • 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.

Dr Delpech said there were some simple steps people could take to protect themselves and loved ones from respiratory viruses like COVID-19, influenza and RSV, including:

  • Stay up to date with your recommended influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Stay home if you are sick and wear a mask if you need to leave home
  • Get together 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 to COVID-19 or influenza
  • Practice good hand hygiene, including hand washing.

 

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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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