Update: Cancer Council Victoria – Bellarine Peninsula Cancer Incidence Report

22 October 2019

As part of the ongoing response to concerns about the incidence of cancer in the Barwon Heads area on the Bellarine Peninsula, the Department of Health and Human Services requested Cancer Council Victoria to carry out an additional data analysis of data from the Victorian Cancer Registry (VCR).

The Bellarine Peninsula Cancer Incidence Report provides an analysis, completed on 17 October, of Victorian Cancer Registry data. The data covers a longer time period (2001 to 2016) than the Chief Health Officer’s report and includes analysis of smaller areas on the Bellarine Peninsula.

This analysis assessed the incidence of selected cancers diagnosed in residents of a defined area on the Bellarine Peninsula over the period 2001-2016 and compared it with the expected incidence based on the average incidence for Victoria. There was also analysis focus on people aged between 10 and 34 years. No substantive evidence of increased incidence was found for any of the cancers studied.

The wording in the report is largely technical so we have produced some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that should help to provide more clarity around the findings and what they mean for those on the Bellarine Peninsula.

The Chief Health Officer supports the findings of Cancer Council Victoria. 

Expert Advisory Group report

The Expert Advisory Group (EAG) met recently to provide expert independent advice to the Chief Health Officer. The EAG reviewed this report and provided a written opinion to the Chief Health Officer. They conclude that the data used in this report are of very high quality; the methods of analysis are appropriate and appear well-executed; and the conclusions are valid. 

The EAG has also concluded that Professor Milne’s analysis provides no material evidence of excess cancer rates in the area examined between 2001 and 2016 for the specific cancer types that were looked at. These were: liver, breast, testis, brain and central nervous system, leukaemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma and other haematopoietic malignancies.  There was also no material evidence of excess rates suggested by the additional analyses of all those cancers combined, for all ages combined. Finally, there was no material evidence of excess rates for all those cancers combined in 10-34 year-olds. 

Urgent medical device quarantine

9 August 2019

The TGA is requesting all facilities immediately quarantine all LemonPrep 114gm tubes following an investigation in Western Australia which found that up to four lot numbers may be contaminated with Burkholderia cepacia, an environmental bacterium.

View the attached quarantine notice for further information and contact details for the TGA.

Safety advice for people using e-cigarettes

8 March 2019

Reports of poisoning due to liquid from e-cigarettes are becoming more common with more than 200 cases reported in Australia since 2009.

The liquid used in e-cigarettes may or may not contain nicotine. Liquid nicotine is a poison, and if ingested can cause serious illness, or even death. Children and pets are particularly vulnerable.

State and Territory drugs, poisons and controlled substances laws, together with Commonwealth legislation effectively prohibit the retail sale of e-liquids containing nicotine for use in e-cigarettes.

There is however a narrow exception where nicotine can be prescribed by a medical practitioner who has established a therapeutic need. The liquid nicotine can then be supplied by a compounding pharmacy, or a limited supply can be imported through the Therapeutic Goods Administration personal importation scheme.

If you prescribe liquid nicotine for a patient, please make sure they are aware of the dangers of using it around children.

Potential dangers of e-cigarettes include:

  • ingestion (swallowing) of e-liquid - which can lead to poisoning and even death when swallowed by children
  • faulty parts - there have been some reports of explosions
  • lithium batteries - these can be flammable or explosive if used in low-quality devices.

Please see the attached consumer fact sheet and provide a copy to patients if you are prescribing liquid nicotine.

If you are concerned a child has ingested e-liquid potentially containing nicotine, call the Victorian Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

If the child is very unwell, has collapsed, stopped breathing, is fitting or having an anaphylactic reaction, ring Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance.

National guidelines relating to the management of health care workers (HCWs) with blood borne viruses revised

21 December 2018

The Commonwealth has revised the National Guidelines for the management of HCWs living with a blood borne virus and HCWs who perform exposure prone procedures at risk of exposure to blood borne viruses.

These updates reflect the effectiveness of antiviral treatment for hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and HIV and support the National Blood Borne Viruses strategies which aim to increase testing and early treatment and reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with these viruses.

Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Victoria

24 September 2018

PFAS are a group of manmade chemicals that have been used extensively since the 1950s in firefighting foams and other applications. There is currently no consistent evidence that PFAS causes any specific illnesses, including cancer. However, these chemicals persist in the environment and if ingested remain in our bodies for a long time. Therefore as a precaution, exposure should be minimised.

PFAS has been detected in a number of locations across Victoria. These include Country Fire Authority training grounds, Department of Defence sites and Melbourne Airport.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued precautionary public health advice for several sites. Investigations are still continuing and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services is working closely with EPA.

Both Melbourne Airport and Airservices Australia have been conducting investigations for PFAS within the airport grounds and surrounds. The EPA has conducted a risk assessment using data provided by Melbourne Airport about PFAS that has migrated into the local waterways and has issued precautionary advice about avoiding recreational use of these waterways. More information is available from the EPA website.

Further information may also be found at the Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) information page, the Commonwealth Health Department website and on the Department of Defence website. 

Changes to notifiable conditions from 1 September 2018 - information for medical practitioners and pathology services

16 July 2018

Changes have been made to the specific infectious diseases and medical conditions that must be notified to the Department of Health and Human Services, and how they must be notified by medical practitioners and pathology services.

The amended Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2009 will commence on 1 September 2018 and will help to reduce the notification workload for medical practitioners, streamline reporting and modernise the scheme.

The changes are described in detail in an information bulletin.

Potential dangers of medical tourism

29 January 2018

Victoria's Chief Health Officer is advising Victorians to be aware of the potential dangers of medical tourism, after a Victorian Coroner issued a warning in December 2017.

The warning followed a finding on the death of Victorian man Leigh Aiple, who had travelled to Malaysia for cosmetic surgery in 2014.

Travelling to another country for medical treatment, including surgery or dental care, is known as medical tourism.

A number of professional groups, including the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons have warned about the risks associated with medical tourism.

The Commonwealth, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, also warns about the potential hazards of overseas elective medical treatment.

People can be motivated by a number of reasons to travel overseas for medical care, including because of cost. However, there are a number of potential dangers.

Standards of medical and surgical practice may not be equivalent to care provided in the Australian health care system. Flying overseas can also contribute to the dangers, because of an increased risk of blood clots that can lead to the potentially fatal condition of pulmonary thromboembolism.

People who are admitted to overseas hospitals are at risk of serious infection with antibiotic-resistant organisms, also known as superbugs. Surgical complications or prolonged hospitals stays may also lead to enormous financial costs. Finally, receiving surgery overseas can separate Victorians from the normal support provided by family and loved ones.

For further information about the potential dangers of medical tourism please visit the Commonwealth Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smartraveller website

Unregulated traditional medicines

23 October 2017

Unregulated complementary medicines such as some traditional folk medicines, may not be manufactured to the same quality as regulated medicines and can therefore cause adverse health effects including toxicity and drug interactions.

Chief Health Officer Advisory: Unregulated traditional medicines

Hepatitis B and immunosuppression (including rituximab)

2 August 2017

People living with chronic hepatitis B are known to be at risk of reactivation of hepatitis B infection and severe flares of hepatitis in the setting of immunosuppression. Australian and international guidelines recommend that all patients be offered testing for current or resolved hepatitis B infection before undergoing immunosuppression.

In addition, when undergoing profound immunosuppression, people with past, resolved hepatitis B infection (HBsAg negative but anti-HBc positive) can also experience reactivation of hepatitis B infection with severe - and sometimes life-threatening - flares. While this can occur in a number of contexts, it has particularly been observed in the setting of chemotherapy for lymphoma when including the anti-cancer monoclonal antibody, rituximab. Use of rituximab in this setting has been shown to be associated with deaths due to severe (fulminant) hepatitis B.

A case of probable hepatitis B reactivation in a HBsAg negative individual receiving rituximab (in addition to other immunosuppressive therapy) for an auto-immune condition has been reported to the Department. In addition to features of acute hepatitis, this probable reactivation also resulted in the transmission of hepatitis B to a susceptible household contact who developed acute hepatitis B.

Chief Health Officer Advisory: Hepatitis B and immunosuppression

Zostavax® and at risk patients

3 March 2017

The shingles vaccine Zostavax® has been provided free for 70-79 year olds since November 2016. Zostavax® is contraindicated in patients who are immunocompromised.

Administration, where contraindicated, has resulted in a death in Australia. Do not administer Zostavax® to patients who are immunocompromised.

Chief Health Officer Advisory: Zostavax® and at risk patients 

Patient delivered partner therapy - information for clinicians

27 August 2015

Patient delivered partner therapy (PDPT) describes the practice in which treatment is prescribed for the sexual partner/s of an index patient diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, as well as the index patient.

The patient then delivers a prescription, or the treatment, to their partner/s. The department has provided guidance and information for clinicians on the safe use of patient delivered partner therapy for chlamydia infection in Victoria.

Read more information for clinicians on patient delivered partner therapy