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Sunday, 30 September 2012

What's new on health matters from Australia?

@HealthMed Recent news concerns infection alerts, raising awareness of the risks of overweight, and ethics of using social networking to undermine efforts to combat drinking and driving.

'Grabbable gut' as clue to being overweight.
How do you engage the public in long-term interest in benefits of keeping weight in check? The recent ‘LiveLighter’ Australian anti-obesity campaign campaign, supported by the The Heart Foundation, aims to improve recognition of overweight as a personal problem. The campaign includes dramatic pictures of internal excess fat, accompanied by images of a man who does not appear realise he has a weight problem - with the reminder that if you can 'grab your gut' ie have enough spare loose abdominal flesh to grasp by the handful, there is a problem.  In other cultures, 'spare tyre', or the advice 'if you jump up and down and it bounces you're overweight' ... have similar resonance. 
Some critics have complained that the campaign further lowers self-esteem in those who already feel under psychological threat - or simply claim that these messages won't work. This overlooks the obvious - increasing failure to perceive that a given build is excessive, with overweight becoming the norm, both in developed and less developed countries.
  Key challenges are more about how to raise awareness that weight is even a problem, why that matters, and what initial and long term sustainable measures will help to keep weight in check and avoid preventable long-term cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular serious health risks.
Raising public awareness is all the more pressing with recognition, for example from recent data from the US NHANESIII study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Munich, that relative overweight [based on increased waist-hip ratio] is more important than raised weight based on body mass index, for predicting increased risk of serious heart disease and other causes of premature death.

Random roadside alcohol checks
In parallel with public health messages about the risk of drinking with any alcohol in the blood, random alcohol tests are being used in Western Australia to discourage drivers from drinking.
Several different initiatives have been used in other countries. In France, by a new 2012 law breathalyzer kits are compulsory for all cars. In Sweden and the USA, alcohol ignition interlocks have been used for drink drinking offenders, and several other countries have piloted these schemes involving a breathalyzer coupled to the ignition – if any alcohol is detected, the car’s ignition is inactivated. Elsewhere, a timed arithmetic test is used as barrier to starting the car, based on the adverse effects of alcohol on brain function of even modest alcohol intake. Rather than accepting help not to drive when potentially a danger to pedestrians and other road user, some drunk drivers have been reported to use a friend or even pay a sober contact to beat the tests.
In Australia, booze bus spotters have been posting messages on social networking sites to warn drivers of its location. Worrying not least from the question how and when drivers are accessing these messages.

Rise in ’Ross River cases’
RossRiver virus, an RNA alpha virus and member of the togaviridae family of viruses, is spread by mosquito  bites and is endemic in Australia and several South Pacific islands. The illness was first reported in 1928. The main reservoir animals appear to be kangaroos and wallabies.
The features include rash and flu-like syndrome, the acute features usually settling within 12 months, with however some of those infected by the virus reporting subsequent long-term ME like debility.
Why now provide an update on the virus? Public health reports indicate a rapid ~5-fold increase in numbers of cases of Ross River disease in Western Australia over the past 3 years from, 332 in 2009-2010 up to 1570 in 2011-2012. This rapid increase has been attributed to increased numbers of the vector - mosquitos - due to a series of La Niña events [coupling of Pacific Ocean currents with weather patterns].  This has lead to an increase in rainfall in parts of Australia, the resulting humid conditions and increase in ground-water favouring greater breeding by mosquitos. 

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