Department of Health

Chief Health Officer noticeboard

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.  

Shigellosis – management recommendations updated

12 April 2019

Notifiable disease surveillance has identified an increasing number of patients diagnosed with Shigella infections (shigellosis) that are resistant to multiple antibiotics – and many identify as MSM and/or have recently travelled overseas

A rise in the number of shigellosis cases who are found to be resistant to multiple antibiotics has prompted the department to modify its treatment recommendations to minimise the use of antibiotics, in line with published therapeutic guidelines. Previously, the department recommended antibiotic treatment for all confirmed cases of shigellosis.

All suspected cases of shigellosis should have stool samples sent for culture and antibiotic sensitivity testing so that treatment can be better targeted to the patient’s specific infection.

Chief Health Officer Advisory: Shigellosis – management recommendations updated

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. 

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.    

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.

 and at risk patients®Chief Health Officer Advisory: Zostavax 

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

Reviewed 29 November 2021


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