News in Brief: Big drop in pathology tests during pandemic; IFN-λ therapy offers novel approach to GVHD prevention; COVID-19 vaccination now mandatory for healthcare workers in NSW

Big drop in pathology tests during pandemic 

COVID-19 restrictions have had a significant impact on the use of pathology testing with researchers in South Australia reporting a drop in the number of tests requested during the state’s first lockdown compared to earlier in the year.

According to the analysis of records from SA Pathology falling test rates were seen across community and ED settings – however, the exception was microbiology molecular tests, which includes virology PCR testing, which were three times higher during the lock down period compared to earlier in the year.

In the community setting the ratio of number of pathology tests pre-lockdown and post- lockdown vs. baseline period decreased from 1.02 to 0.53 respectively. 

The number of troponin tests, as an indicator of urgent care, decreased in the lockdown period compared to the baseline period and researchers said an inverse association between patient age and numbers of troponin tests in lockdown may suggest that possible avoidance behaviour was more pronounced in older age groups who are at increased risk of suffering severe effects associated with COVID-19.

Noting that South Australia was one of the few locations in the world with the lowest incidence of COVID-19 during the early stage of the pandemic, researchers described the resulting impact on pathology request rates as ‘interesting.’

“In South Australia the health care system was not overburdened by COVID-19 cases during the study period and as such did not represent a barrier to patient presentations at ED. The behaviour of not seeking treatment for urgent care conditions needs to be addressed in preparation for further possible COVID-19 restrictions and other pandemics.”

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IFN-λ therapy offers novel approach to severe gastrointestinal graft-versus-host disease prevention 

Queensland and US researchers have uncovered a key role for interferon λ in preventing intestinal tissue injury during acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD).

Investigators led by specialists from  QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Department of Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, say the group of anti-viral cytokines (IFN-λ; interleukin 28 [IL-28]/IL-29) could be an attractive and rapidly testable approach to preventing the potentially fatal complication following allogenic bone marrow transplantation (BMT).

Writing in Blood, the research group say IFN-λ therapy could boost GI tissue protection and could be a novel approach to GVHD prevention. Current approaches rely on immune suppression, which could lead to immune mediated damage. The researchers suggest that IFN-λ limits intestinal stem cell (ISC) loss and promotes regeneration of the gut epithelia, preserving mucosal barrier function.

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COVID-19 vaccination now mandatory for healthcare workers in NSW

NSW has become the first state to introduce mandatory vaccination against against COVID-19 for al healthcare staff working in public and private hospitals.

Under a new Public Health Order, health staff must have a first dose of vaccine by 30 September 2021 and be fully vaccinated by 30 November 2021, or at least have their second appointment booked to continue working.

Staff will be required to provide evidence they have received their first dose to their employer by 30 September 2021 or they will be excluded from the workplace.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said 80% of staff already vaccinated and the new requirement was similar to existing mandatory vaccination requirements for frontline health staff for influenza, chicken pox, measles and pertussis.

“National Cabinet agreed in June to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for aged care workers, and NSW will now ensure the same protections exist for all our health workers,” he said.

“It will also ease pressure on our health system during this challenging time. More than 1,200 healthcare workers have been in isolation each day over the past seven days and we cannot afford that right now. Vaccinations will help ensure our fantastic staff can continue to care for patients.

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