The 2014 influenza season saw Public Health Unit staff heavily involved in managing influenza outbreaks in Aged Care Facilities. 17 facilities had confirmed outbreaks requiring public health unit staff assistance in expediting testing, ensuring infection control procedures were enhanced and coordinating treatment and/or prophylaxis with Oseltamivir. An epidemiological review of the outbreaks is underway, to provide recommendations and advice for future influenza outbreak response by Public Health and Aged Care Facility staff.
The nominated receiving hospitals for potential cases of Ebola occurring in NSW – Westmead Hospital and Children’s Hospital Westmead – are both in WSLHD. Accordingly Public Health Unit staff were intensively involved in planning and preparation for this eventuality, and were involved in the care and follow up both of potential cases of Ebola referred to Westmead, and for travellers returning to Western Sydney from West Africa.
In parallel staff from the PHU met with a number of African communities in Western Sydney – a Liberian Church in Mt Druitt and a Fulani speaking Community Group in Auburn - to canvas their concerns about the outbreak, what they might do to help, and implications for travel to see family.
The first quarter of 2014 saw the PHU manage 11 confirmed cases of measles, as well as contacts of other cases from other local health districts. The increased burden of measles in WS and NSW was predominantly due to visitors and returning travellers from Typhoon-affected Philippines where measles outbreaks were occurring.
PHU staff initiated a Housing for Health project in Mt Druitt in collaboration with the NSW Ministry of Health, Housing NSW, NSW Land and Housing Corporation and the Aboriginal Medical Services Western Sydney. Forty Eight Aboriginal families with newborns or young children attending the Aboriginal Medical Services Western Sydney agreed to participate in the project. This project is a landmark in that it is the first time that a project such as this has been carried out in public housing in NSW and opens the door for similar projects to be conducted in Sydney and other parts of NSW.
Contrived and implemented a major public health disaster preparedness exercise based upon a hypothetical terrorist attack in Parramatta which paralysed transport and emergency services throughout Sydney. This exercise involved all members of the Public Health Unit and many from the Health Promotion unit in WSLHD.
Participation in the risk assessment and management of two sites in WSLHD with asbestos contamination issues – the former James Hardie redevelopment site in Camellia and Westmead Hospital.
Visited each 111 high schools three to four times in 2014 and administered 53,354* vaccines to Year 7 and Year 9 students against human papillomavirus, chicken-pox, and diphtheria; tetanus and whooping cough. The team also provided mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) catch-up vaccination for Year 7-10 in 28 selected high schools.
*this data is for the School Program 2014 – calendar year.
The immunisation team started providing the free seasonal influenza vaccination for patients at high risk of severe illness as part of WSLHD flu prevention program. The PHU immunisation nurses are staffing clinics at Westmead, Blacktown and Auburn hospitals.
The PHU immunisation program provided a number of educational and training activities to immunisation providers (n=414) including Accredited nurse immuniser updates x2 (160 participants); General Practice Nurses Immunisation Training x 2 (111 participants); Midwife in-service x 5 (89 participants); School Program Nurses update (20 participants); Mandatory and CPR Training (29 participants); Community health nurses update (5 participants).
As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants experience higher rates of many vaccine-preventable diseases, Aboriginal Immunisation Officers were employed in Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD) to telephonically contact the families of all Aboriginal infants prior to the due date for their first scheduled outpatient vaccination. Initially a part time Aboriginal Immunisation Officer was employed in 2010 to phone the parents of Aboriginal babies born, providing the rationale for timely immunisation and facilitating contact with culturally safe local immunisation services as required. With secure funding from NSW Health two full time Aboriginal Immunisation Officers were appointed at the end of 2012 in HNELHD and on the basis of promising results the pre-call strategy was continued. There was a significant increase in immunisation coverage for Aboriginal children in HNELHD and a significant decrease in the immunisation coverage gap between Aboriginal children and non-Indigenous children in HNELHD. The immunisation coverage gap between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous infants decreased at a significantly faster rate in HNE than the rest of NSW (p=0.0001). By the end of 2014, immunisation coverage in HNELHD Aboriginal infants had surpassed that of non-Indigenous infants by 0.8%. The employment of Aboriginal immunisation officers and the pre-call strategy has eliminated the gap in Aboriginal infant immunisation coverage.