News in brief: MS latitude finding holds true in latest Tasmania data; Recreational nitrous oxide an emerging issue with neurological consequences; Record number of doctors elected to parliament


23 May 2022

MS latitude finding holds true in latest Tasmania data 

The prevalence and incidence of multiple sclerosis (MS) in Tasmania continues to be among the highest, latest data shows

Since 1961 the Greater Hobart region, with a latitude of 42.5°S, has consistently been reported as having one of the highest number of MS cases both in Australia and worldwide.

Now the latest data reveals a continued increase in MS prevalence and incidence within the region, albeit with a lower mortality rate. 

Dr Steve Simpson-Yap from the University of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health noted that in 2019, 436 persons with MS were found residing in the region, a prevalence of 197.1/100 000,  a 36% increase since 2001 and 3.1-fold increase since 1961.

Over the same time period, incidence rates were 5.9/100 000 person-years, a 2.8-fold increase since 1951–1961 and 65% since 2001–2009.

However, figures showed that mortality rates continued to decline, reaching 1.5/100 000 person-years in this study with 34 recorded deaths in the cohort, while the mean age increased to 54.4years. 

“Our findings suggest a beneficial impact of these DMTs on reduced mortality in people with MS, bringing their mortality on par with the general population, and a benefit of DMTs and overall improved healthcare for people with MS beyond their immediate impacts on clinical progression,” the research team wrote in J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry.

Recreational nitrous oxide an emerging issue with neurological consequences

Abuse of nitrous oxide (N²O) is on the rise in Australia, yet physicians and the general public are largely unaware of the health risks, neurologists say. 

Writing in an editorial in the Internal Medicine Journal, the Sydney based doctors noted that N²O was a dissociative favoured by an increasing number of young people for its rapidity of onset of euphoria and hallucinations. 

Complications associated with excessive inhaled nitrous oxide N²O use included subacute peripheral sensorimotor deficits, with or without neuropsychiatric complications.

While medical grade N²O was hard to acquire, whipped cream canisters were an easily accessible source that was hard to regulate, they wrote. 

“Without a suitable alternative, and given the popularity of whipped cream in the food industry, it is imperative to raise awareness of these issues not only in the medical community, but for the community as a whole”, they wrote.

The authors call for a greater focus on education around the health risks of N²O abuse, as well as enhanced physician recognition of the ways it can harm. 

Record number of doctors elected to parliament

The number of doctors in Federal Parliament has risen to four, with specialists, GPs and emergency doctors all gaining seats for the first time.

As well as paediatric neurologist Professor Monique Ryan defeating sitting Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the Melbourne division of Kooyong, fellow Teal Independent Dr Sophie Scamps also enters parliament for the first time in the Sydney seat of Mackellar, where she lives and works as a GP.

And infectious diseases physician Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah has won the blue ribbon Melbourne seat of Higgins for Labor, unseating Liberal MP and fellow medical specialist, Dr Katie Allen, a paediatrician.

The other doctor elected for the first time was Dr Gordon Reid, who became the Labor MP for Robertson, on the NSW Central Coast.

A Wiradjuri man, he said he had been inspired to run while working in the emergency department at the local Wyong Hospital by the bungled vaccine rollout and quarantine program.

Dr Reid said he planned to dedicate his parliamentary work to improving healthcare as well as protecting the Central Coast economy and addressing housing affordability.

Paediatrician Dr Mike Freelander retained the Sydney seat of Macarthur for Labor.

However, cardiologist Dr Michael Feneley, who ran as the Liberal candidate for the NSW electorate of Dobell, was unsuccessful in unseating Labor’s Emma McBride.


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