Category Archives: Western Australia

Western Australia | GPs alerted to children overdue for immunisations

GPs across Western Australia have been sent a list of those children under 24 months who were overdue for their next scheduled vaccines as part of an initiative to increase childhood immunisation rates across the State.

WA Health issued the statements, generated by the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR), to GPs recorded as the last vaccine providers of the overdue children, and encouraged them to follow up parents and book outstanding vaccinations.

A total of 5,295 children under 24 months were listed in the statements, with an average of 3 overdue children per GP and a maximum of 36.

Dr Paul Effler, from WA Health’s Communicable Disease Control, said this targeted approach was part of an ongoing effort to work with immunisation providers to raise immunisation rates in WA.

“GPs are integral to our efforts to follow up parents and remind them of the importance of immunisation. We hope these letters will help by identifying overdue children and also help clean any incorrectly recorded data on ACIR, which can occur, for example, when people move to WA from overseas.”

A total of 1,809 letters have been sent to 808 practices, with updated statements planned quarterly. A sheet of frequently asked questions will also be supplied to help GPs provide correct information to ACIR.

The effort follows a mapped immunisation update sent to GPs earlier this year. GPs received a map of their practice’s surrounding suburbs with immunisation rates for 12–15 months olds in their area allowing providers to compare their area to the State average.

While immunisation rates for children aged 24–27 months in WA have risen from 90.6% in 2012–13 to 91.0% in 2013–14, they remain below the national average of 92.4%, with some areas still significantly lagging.

Western Australia | Ross River virus disease risk in south-west

The Department of Health is reminding residents and travellers in the south-west of Western Australia to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites over the coming months.

The warning follows the first detection of Ross River virus (RRV) in mosquitoes in the south-west for the 2014/15 mosquito season. The mosquito and virus surveillance program is undertaken by The University of Western Australia on behalf of the Department.

Department of Health Acting Medical Entomologist, Dr Andrew Jardine said although the virus was detected in mosquitoes from the Peel region, it was likely to be more widespread.

“It is likely that at this time of year Ross River Virus would be active across most of the south-west,” Dr Jardine said.

“Mosquito management is being undertaken by local government authorities in collaboration with the Department of Health in areas with a recognised risk of RRV and Barmah Forest virus (BFV) infection.

“However, it is not realistic to rely on mosquito management programs alone to control mosquitoes—people also need to take their own precautions to avoid mosquito bites,” he said.

Symptoms of RRV include painful or swollen joints, sore muscles, skin rashes, fever, fatigue and headaches. Symptoms can last for weeks or months and the only way to properly diagnose the viruses is by having a specific blood test.

There is no cure for RRV so it’s important that people take care to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.

People living or travelling in the southwest do not need to change their travel plans but should take extra precautions, such as:

  • avoiding outdoor exposure particularly around dawn and dusk (and the first few hours after dark);
  • wearing protective (long, loose-fitting, light coloured) clothing when outdoors;
  • applying a personal repellent containing 20% diethyl toluamide (DEET) or picaridin to exposed skin or clothing. The most effective and long-lasting formulations are lotions or gels. Natural or organic repellents may not be as effective as DEET or picaridin, or may need to be reapplied more frequently;
  • ensuring insect screens are installed and in good condition. The use of bed nets will offer further protection;
  • using mosquito nets or mosquito-proof tents when camping or sleeping outdoors; and
  • ensuring infants and children are adequately protected against mosquito bites, preferably with suitable clothing, bed nets or other forms of insect screening.

With summer approaching, it is also a timely reminder for residents to minimise mosquito breeding around the home by taking some simple steps to remove or modify breeding sites. Residents should:

  • Dispose of all containers which hold water;
  • Stock ornamental ponds with fish and keep vegetation away from the water’s edge;
  • Keep swimming pools well chlorinated, filtered and free of dead leaves;
  • Fill or drain depressions in the ground that hold water;
  • Fit mosquito proof covers to vent pipes on septic tank systems. Seal all gaps around the lid and ensure leach drains are completely covered;
  • Screen rainwater tanks with insect proof mesh, including inlet, overflow and inspection ports;
  • Ensure guttering does not hold water;
  • Empty pot plant drip trays once a week or fill them with sand; and
  • Empty and clean animal and pet drinking water bowls once a week.

Western Australia | Child with meningococcal infection in critical condition

The Department of Health today reported that a young child was recently diagnosed with meningococcal disease and remains critically unwell.

Meningococcal disease is an uncommon, life-threatening illness due to a bacterial infection of the blood and/or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain.

The Department of Health has identified the child’s close contacts and provided them with information, and, where appropriate, antibiotics that minimise the chance that the organism might be passed on to others.

Meningococcal bacteria are carried harmlessly in the back of the nose and throat by about 10–20 per cent of the population at any one time. Very rarely, the bacteria invade the bloodstream and cause serious infections.

Meningococcal bacteria are not easily spread from person-to-person. The bacterium is present in droplets discharged from the nose and throat when coughing or sneezing, but is not spread by saliva and does not survive more than a few seconds in the environment.

Invasive meningococcal infection is most common in babies and young children, and older teenagers and young adults, but infection can occur at any age.

Symptoms may include high fever, chills, headache, neck stiffness, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, and severe muscle and joint pains. Young children may not complain of symptoms, so fever, pale or blotchy complexion, vomiting, lethargy (blank staring, floppiness, inactivity, hard to wake, or poor feeding) and rash are important signs.

Sometimes—but not always—symptoms may be accompanied by the appearance of a spotty red-purple rash that looks like small bleeding points beneath the skin or bruises.

Although treatable with antibiotics, the infection can progress very rapidly, so it is important that anyone experiencing these symptoms seeks medical attention promptly. With appropriate treatment, most people recover.

The incidence of meningococcal disease has decreased significantly in WA over the past decade, with around 20 to 25 cases reported each year—down from a peak of 86 cases in 2000.

There were 16 cases notified in 2013, the lowest number recorded in more than 20 years. Fifteen cases have been reported to date in 2014.

A vaccine to protect against the C type of meningococcal disease, which in the past was responsible for around 15 per cent of cases in WA, is provided free to children at 12 months of age. A vaccine against serogroup B meningococcal infection, the most common type, has recently become available on prescription.

Western Australia | Paramedics prepared for Ebola potential

St John Ambulance WA has reinforced its infectious disease protocols in response to the occurrence of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa and a suspected case in Perth.

General Manager Metropolitan Ambulance Service James Sherriff said St John had long-standing and established procedures for handling patients with a suspected infectious disease.

“St John receives regular notifications on the status of EVD from the Department of Health at state and federal levels,” Mr Sherriff said.

“While the likelihood of widespread EVD in Australia is extremely low, given the recent outbreak of EVD in West Africa, we thought it was timely to review our infectious patient protocols and reinforce them with all on road staff.”

Patients with suspected EVD have:

  • A fever of or above 38C
  • AND history of travel from West Africa (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea or Nigeria) in the past 21 days
  • or contact with a confirmed EVD case
  • or contact with EVD-infected blood, tissue or objects (eg. sharps)

“Our crews are equipped with appropriate protective equipment including masks, glasses, overalls, over-boots and gloves,” Mr Sherriff said.

“We avoid the risk of exposure to other ambulance or hospital staff by limiting unnecessary patient contact.

“St John also provides early notification to the receiving infectious disease hospital as this is key to ensuring the best possible outcome for the patient and minimal risk to all treating clinicians.”

Western Australia | New EMS mobile command centre has its debut at Perth Royal Show


St John Ambulance Western Australia has significantly bolstered its emergency response capabilities, with the deployment of its Mobile Command Centre at the 2014 Perth Royal Show.

The customised vehicle is fitted with the latest communication technology and will directly link the mobile command with the St John Ambulance State Operations Centre, Department of Health and other emergency services.

The Mobile Command Centre was commissioned following recommendations resulting from the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission.

St John Event Health Service General Manager Phil Martin said the inquiry recommended that all emergency service vehicles be motorised.

“WA is moving towards ensuring all emergency services vehicles are motorised to allow for quick evacuation if a situation escalates or changes rapidly,” Mr Martin said. “Ultimately, it’s about the safety of our members to be able to get them out of a danger zone – fast.”

“The move to a motorised Command Centre has also provided an opportunity to upgrade our command post communications equipment to improve contact with other services as well as our own teams on the ground.”

“The mobile command centre has the capacity for eight communications officers and includes features such as live tracking of our event ambulance fleet. The Mobile Command Centre upgrade is valued at $200,000.”

St John will dispatch the Mobile Command Centre for all major events in future, including the Australia Day Skyworks and major festivals and concerts, as well as large-scale emergency operations.

In addition to St John providing emergency and first aid care at this year’s Royal Show, commencing this Saturday, it is has an exhibit tent where show patrons can have a hands-on introduction to first aid.

“We will be running free CPR training demonstrations regularly throughout the day and will also have first aid kits on display, at specially discounted Show prices.”

The St John Ambulance Royal Show display is on Hardy Ave near the train station entrance; while St John first aid posts are situated around the showgrounds. Patrons should refer to their map for locations.

St John has been caring for the health of royal show patrons for 111 years in 2014.

Western Australia | New cancer compensation support for firefighters

Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis today announced that State Cabinet had approved legislation to provide compensation to current and former volunteer firefighters, the Department of Parks and Wildlife firefighters and former Department of Fire and Emergency Services firefighters who contract a prescribed cancer.
The legislation will complement a cancer compensation Bill for career firefighters employed by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) (The Workers’ Compensation and Injury Management Amendment Bill 2013) which was enacted in November 2013.
Mr Francis said that, like the 2013 Amendment Bill, the new legislation would recognise that firefighters placed themselves in a unique position of risk through their exposure to carcinogens which it is known can cause certain types of cancer.         
“Under the legislative amendments, current and former volunteer and Parks and Wildlife firefighters and former DFES firefighters who contract one of 12 prescribed cancers will be entitled to compensation,” the Minister said.
“In the past, firefighters who developed cancer were required to provide proof of the link between firefighting and cancer in order to submit a workers compensation claim. Because toxins and chemicals encountered at a fire incident are rarely recorded, proving that link was difficult.”
Mr Francis said the compensation entitlement would relate to exposure to the hazards of a structure fire, vehicle fire or a rubbish fire and would depend upon the firefighter’s length and frequency of service.
  • The Workers Compensation and Injury Management Amendment Bill for DFES career firefighters commenced on November 12, 2013
  • The 12 prescribed cancers are primary site brain cancer, primary site bladder cancer, primary site kidney cancer, primary non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, primary leukaemia, primary site breast cancer, primary site testicular cancer, multiple myeloma, primary site prostate cancer, primary site ureter cancer, primary site colorectal cancer, and primary site oesophageal cancer

Western Australia | St John Ambulance WA has busiest day ever

St John Ambulance Western Australia responded to a record number of emergency ambulance jobs on Monday, August 25.

Paramedics and ambulance officers responded to 688 dispatches in the metropolitan area and 160 in country WA.

St John General Manager Metropolitan Ambulance Service, James Sherriff, said a late start to the flu season and a large number of emergency jobs had contributed to the unprecedented demand for ambulances.

“St John is well equipped to respond to high demand, adding supplementary ambulances and crews on standby at strategic locations and at peak times,” he said.

“The triple zero call centre has ongoing liaison with hospital emergency departments to plan and best determine where patients should be sent, rather than relying solely on location.

“The cooperation between the triple zero call centre, crews on road and hospitals to ensure the best possible outcome for the patients of Western Australia is commendable.”

St John has a target of reaching 90 per cent of high priority unscheduled events where patient’s life is at risk within 15 minutes of receiving an emergency call.

St John has continually improved its response time in the past four years, with 93.2 per cent of priority one (life threatening) calls in 2013/14 arriving within 15 minutes.

Further improvement on patient outcomes can be made by fellow Western Australians learning and applying first aid to people in need, then calling St John on triple zero (000) and providing the patient’s exact location, as early as possible.

Not only was yesterday a record breaking day with regards to number of cases attended, recently St John had a record setting day for the Patient Transfer Service, with 155 non-emergency hospital transfers on August 19.

Western Australia | 2,400 students take part in St John Ambulance Youth Challenge

More than 2,400 Perth schoolchildren are taking part in the inaugural St John Ambulance WA Youth Challenge event at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre today.

St John Chief Executive Officer Tony Ahern said the youth challenge aimed at inspiring young people to learn new skills and get them excited about first aid.

“St John has the objective of making first aid a part of everyone’s life so today is about delivering on that,” he said.

“If more people learn first aid, we build a more resilient community. St John operates a world-class ambulance service in Western Australia but those few minutes immediately after an incident are critical in a life and death scenario.

“The better equipped people are to deal with these sorts of scenarios, the better the patient outcomes.

“We think the students attending today will learn some new skills and have fun doing it.”

Mr Ahern said the challenge requires students to apply critical and creative thinking skills such as reason, logic, resourcefulness, imagination and innovation to solve the challenge tasks.

The year 4-7 students attending the event are from 27 Perth primary schools. They will be given a “passport” when they enter the event and they will then participate in various first aid scenarios to get their passport stamped.

In moving through the scenarios, they will learn:

  1.      Vital life-saving skills including the recovery position and the DRSABCD action plan
  2.      Management of external bleeding
  3.      Treating burns and scalds
  4.      Dealing with bites and stings

Students will also get to meet St John paramedics and get a closer look at ambulances.

Western Australia | Chickenpox – not just a harmless childhood illness

WA Health has launched a six-week campaign to encourage all Western Australians – adults and children – to get vaccinated for chickenpox, amid concerns that many people mistakenly think the illness is harmless.

The campaign, the first of its kind in Western Australia, will employ radio and online advertising as well as posters and community announcements in Coles supermarkets, to reinforce the message that chickenpox is serious, with symptoms sometimes leading to hospitalisation or – in extreme cases – death.

Department of Health Communicable Disease Control Medical Coordinator Dr Paul Effler said Western Australia already had 213 reported cases of chickenpox in 2014, and data from recent years shows August tended to be the highest month for reports.

“Chickenpox needs to be taken seriously as it can make children very sick and cause serious health complications in adults,” he said.

“We are concerned that parents are leaving their children to catch the disease in the natural environment rather than getting them vaccinated,” he said.

“While most children who get chickenpox have a mild illness, some can become very sick and get infected chickenpox spots that can leave permanent scarring.

“In adults, chickenpox can be a painful and life-threatening illness, and is of particular concern for pregnant women and people with low immunity.

“In the three years from 2011 to 2013, more than 240 people (approximately 80 per year) were hospitalised due to chicken pox, and between 2007 to 2011 chickenpox was associated with eight deaths.

“I recommend any adult who does not remember having the disease as a child, get vaccinated – not only for their own sake, but also because chickenpox is highly contagious. When a person has chickenpox more than 90 per cent of their susceptible close contacts, such as family and friends will also catch it.”

Dr Effler said that while the chickenpox vaccine was offered free as part of the national childhood immunisation program, it had a lower uptake than other vaccines on the program.

A recent survey conducted by WA Health found that 43 per cent of WA parents who chose not to immunise their children against chickenpox did so because they did not think chickenpox was a dangerous disease.

Travellers were at particular risk because the virus was prevalent in countries where the chickenpox vaccination was not available.

For more information look for chickenpox on the Healthy WA website (external site).

Western Australia | Measles warning issued for passengers on Singapore-Perth flight

The WA Department of Health is warning travellers who travelled on Singapore Airlines flight SQ225 departing Singapore for Perth on 26 July 2014 that they may have been exposed to measles.

The warning comes after a passenger who travelled on this flight was confirmed to have been infectious with measles. This passenger also travelled on Singapore Airlines flight SQ5066 from Davao in the Philippines to Singapore, earlier the same day.

Dr Paul Effler from the Communicable Disease Control Directorate said “measles is highly infectious and is spread through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms can include fever, tiredness, runny nose, cough and sore red eyes which usually last for several days before a red, blotchy rash appears. Complications can include pneumonia or swelling of the brain,” Dr Effler said.

Susceptible passengers who may have been exposed to measles on this flight could expect symptoms to appear any time between the 2nd and 12th of August.

Passengers who develop these symptoms should seek medical attention, but it is important that they phone ahead first to ensure they don’t share the waiting area with other patients and risk infecting them”, Dr Effler said.

“The local public health units are attempting to contact passengers who were seated closest to the infected traveller and are most at risk, however, other passengers seated elsewhere on the plane may have been exposed to the virus and should also be alert for symptoms.

“WA is experiencing a surge in measles cases. So far in 2014, we have had 33 measles infections reported; that’s already more than we’ve seen in any previous year for the past decade.” Dr Effler said nine of the patients had been hospitalised and half were adults aged between 20 and 49 years of age.

Dr Effler said that many Australians under 50 years of age who have not received two doses of measles vaccine are still susceptible to measles. Persons born before 1966 are usually immune because they had measles during childhood.

Dr Effler said “Measles is still common in many parts of the world and Australians who travel abroad need to check their immunisation status. If you are under 50 and are not sure if you’ve had 2 doses of measles vaccine you should consult with your doctor at least a month before your departure.”

Dr Effler also urged parents to check that their children are fully immunised. Children should receive a dose of measles vaccine at both 12 and 18 months of age, as part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule. For more information on measles visit measles

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