Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Findings from 20 years of data show major public health achievements

Research Fellow and PhD candidate Dr Katherine Gibney recently had a paper published in Epidemiology and Infection analysing more than two decades of data which captures all laboratory-diagnosed cases of nationally notifiable infectious diseases in Australia.

Australia has had a national surveillance system for notifiable infectious diseases since 1991. Surveillance continues to be the foundation of public health efforts to minimise morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases.

A national surveillance system like Australia’s National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) allows examination of the epidemiological profile of important infections at a country level. Dr Gibney’s trend analysis is unique as this is the first time the entire dataset has been reported on since the NNDSS commenced.

Dr Gibney looked at 21 years of data which captured all laboratory-diagnosed cases of 65 nationally notifiable infectious diseases in Australia. Over this time, some diseases, such as chlamydial infection, influenza and pertussis became more common, partly through improved diagnostic tests and increased testing.

However findings also highlighted some major public health achievements such as the impact of Australia’s National Immunisation Programme had on reducing notification incidence for rubella, measles and haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib).

Indigenous people comprise only three per cent of the Australian population but were represented 8.4 per cent of notifiable cases; and while the Northern Territory has the lowest population of all the states and territories it carried the highest annual notification rates.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) accounted for a third of all notifications Australia-wide, with chlamydial infections accounting for nearly 80 per cent of STI cases, most commonly affecting Australians aged 20-29 age bracket.

Dr Gibney says that trend analyses such as these provide a vital epidemiological profile of important infections at a country level and can help inform public health responses in populations and age groups that may benefit from tailored interventions.

“Understanding the increasing number of notifiable diseases and notified cases is crucial for informing surveillance and public health workforce planning at a jurisdictional and national level, as well as the complexity of public health responses required to reduce associated morbidity and mortality,” Dr Gibney said.

While the annual number of notifications increased more than fivefold over the 21-year study period, this is in part because the number of notifiable diseases on the NNDSS increased from 37 to 65 over the study period.

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