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1.  High prevalence of asymptomatic vitamin D and iron deficiency in East African immigrant children and adolescents living in a temperate climate 
Archives of Disease in Childhood  2007;92(12):1088-1093.
Vitamin D deficiency (VDD) is common in immigrant children with increased skin pigmentation living in higher latitudes. We assessed the pattern of and risk factors for VDD in immigrant East African children living in Melbourne (latitude 37°49′ South).
Study design
A prospective survey of 232 East African children attending a clinic in Melbourne. Data were collected by questionnaire, medical assessment and laboratory tests.
Low 25‐hydroxyvitamin D (25‐OHD) levels (<50 nmol/l) occurred in 87% of children, and VDD (25‐OHD <25 nmol/l) in 44%. Risk factors included age <5 years, female gender, increased time in Australia, decreased daylight exposure and winter/spring season. Anaemia (20%), vitamin A deficiency (20%) and iron deficiency (19%) were also identified.
Asymptomatic VDD is common in East African immigrant children residing at a temperate latitude. Risk factors for VDD limit endogenous vitamin D production. Screening of immigrant children with increased skin pigmentation for VDD, anaemia, iron and vitamin A deficiency is appropriate. VDD in adolescent females identifies an increased risk of future infants with VDD.
PMCID: PMC2066069  PMID: 17768148
3.  Extensive Diversity of Streptococcus pyogenes in a Remote Human Population Reflects Global-Scale Transmission Rather than Localised Diversification 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e73851.
The Indigenous population of the Northern Territory of Australia (NT) suffers from a very high burden of Streptococcus pyogenes disease, including cardiac and renal sequelae. The aim of this study was to determine if S. pyogenes isolated from this population represent NT endemic strains, or conversely reflect strains with global distribution. emm sequence typing data were used to select 460 S. pyogenes isolates representing NT S. pyogenes diversity from 1987–2008. These isolates were genotyped using either multilocus sequence typing (MLST) or a high resolution melting-based MLST surrogate (Minim typing). These data were combined with MLST data from other studies on NT S. pyogenes to yield a set of 731 MLST or Minim typed isolates for analysis. goeBURST analysis of MLST allelic profiles and neighbour-joining trees of the MLST allele sequences revealed that a large proportion of the known global S. pyogenes MLST-defined diversity has now been found in the NT. Specifically, fully sequence typed NT isolates encompass 19% of known S. pyogenes STs and 43% of known S. pyogenes MLST alleles. These analyses provided no evidence for major NT-endemic strains, with many STs and MLST alleles shared between the NT and the rest of the world. The relationship between the number of known Minim types, and the probability that a Minim type identified in a calendar year would be novel was determined. This revealed that Minim types typically persist in the NT for >1 year, and indicate that the majority of NT Minim types have been identified. This study revealed that many diverse S. pyogenes strains exhibit global scale mobility that extends to isolated populations. The burden of S. pyogenes disease in the NT is unlikely to be due to the nature of NT S. pyogenes strains, but is rather a function of social and living conditions.
PMCID: PMC3774777  PMID: 24066079
4.  Is Streptococcus pyogenes Resistant or Susceptible to Trimethoprim-Sulfamethoxazole? 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2012;50(12):4067-4072.
Streptococcus pyogenes is commonly believed to be resistant to trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (SXT), resulting in reservations about using SXT for skin and soft tissue infections (SSTI) where S. pyogenes is involved. S. pyogenes' in vitro susceptibility to SXT depends on the medium's thymidine content. Thymidine allows S. pyogenes to bypass the sulfur-mediated inhibition of folate metabolism and, historically, has resulted in apparently reduced susceptibility of S. pyogenes to sulfur antibacterials. The low thymidine concentration in Mueller-Hinton agar (MHA) is now regulated. We explored S. pyogenes susceptibility to SXT on various media. Using two sets of 100 clinical S. pyogenes isolates, we tested for susceptibility using SXT Etests on MHA containing defibrinated horse blood and 20 mg/liter β-NAD (MHF), MHA with sheep blood (MHS), MHA alone, MHA with horse blood (MHBA), and MHA with lysed horse blood (MHLHBA). European Committee on Antibacterial Susceptibility Testing (EUCAST) breakpoints defined susceptibility (MIC, ≤1 mg/liter) and resistance (MIC, >2 mg/liter). In study 1, 99% of S. pyogenes isolates were susceptible to SXT on MHA, MHBA, and MHLHBA, with geometric mean MICs of 0.04, 0.04, and 0.05 mg/liter, respectively. In study 2, all 100 S. pyogenes isolates were susceptible to SXT on MHF, MHS, MHA, and MHLHBA with geometric mean MICs of 0.07, 0.16, 0.07, and 0.09 mg/liter, respectively. This study confirms the in vitro susceptibility of S. pyogenes to SXT, providing support for the use of SXT for SSTIs. A clinical trial using SXT for impetigo is ongoing.
PMCID: PMC3502963  PMID: 23052313
5.  Use of health services by remote dwelling Aboriginal infants in tropical northern Australia: a retrospective cohort study 
BMC Pediatrics  2012;12:19.
Australia is a wealthy developed country. However, there are significant disparities in health outcomes for Aboriginal infants compared with other Australian infants. Health outcomes tend to be worse for those living in remote areas. Little is known about the health service utilisation patterns of remote dwelling Aboriginal infants. This study describes health service utilisation patterns at the primary and referral level by remote dwelling Aboriginal infants from northern Australia.
Data on 413 infants were analysed. Following birth, one third of infants were admitted to the regional hospital neonatal nursery, primarily for preterm birth. Once home, most (98%) health service utilisation occurred at the remote primary health centre, infants presented to the centre about once a fortnight (mean 28 presentations per year, 95%CI 26.4-30.0). Half of the presentations were for new problems, most commonly for respiratory, skin and gastrointestinal symptoms. Remaining presentations were for reviews or routine health service provision. By one year of age 59% of infants were admitted to hospital at least once, the rate of hospitalisation per infant year was 1.1 (95%CI 0.9-1.2).
The hospitalisation rate is high and admissions commence early in life, visits to the remote primary health centre are frequent. Half of all presentations are for new problems. These findings have important implications for health service planning and delivery to remote dwelling Aboriginal families.
PMCID: PMC3384247  PMID: 22373262
6.  Comparison of Citrated Human Blood, Citrated Sheep Blood, and Defibrinated Sheep Blood Mueller-Hinton Agar Preparations for Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing of Streptococcus pneumoniae Isolates ▿  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2010;48(10):3770-3772.
The use of Mueller-Hinton agar supplemented with citrated human or citrated sheep blood was compared with the use of routinely used Mueller-Hinton agar supplemented with defibrinated sheep blood for antimicrobial susceptibility testing of Streptococcus pneumoniae. The alternate supplements were found to be unsatisfactory, particularly for testing resistant isolates, and therefore are not recommended.
PMCID: PMC2953122  PMID: 20668133
7.  Global research priorities in rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease 
We now stand at a critical juncture for rheumatic fever (RF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) control. In recent years, we have seen a surge of interest in these diseases in regions of the world where RF/RHD mostly occur. This brings real opportunities to make dramatic progress in the next few years, but also real risks if we miss these opportunities. Most public health and clinical approaches in RF/RHD arose directly from programmes of research. Many unanswered questions remain, including those around how to implement what we know will work, so research will continue to be essential in our efforts to bring a global solution to this disease. Here we outline our proposed research priorities in RF/RHD for the coming decade, grouped under the following four challenges: Translating what we know already into practical RHD control; How to identify people with RHD earlier, so that preventive measures have a higher chance of success; Better understanding of disease pathogenesis, with a view to improved diagnosis and treatment of ARF and RHD; and Finding an effective approach to primary prevention. We propose a mixture of basic, applied, and implementation science. With concerted efforts, strong links to clinical and public health infrastructure, and advocacy and funding support from the international community, there are good prospects for controlling these RF and RHD over the next decade.
PMCID: PMC3104531  PMID: 21677798
Rheumatic fever; rheumatic heart disease; prevention
8.  Epidemiology of nasopharyngeal carriage of respiratory bacterial pathogens in children and adults: cross-sectional surveys in a population with high rates of pneumococcal disease 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2010;10:304.
To determine the prevalence of carriage of respiratory bacterial pathogens, and the risk factors for and serotype distribution of pneumococcal carriage in an Australian Aboriginal population.
Surveys of nasopharyngeal carriage of Streptococcus pneumoniae, non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis were conducted among adults (≥16 years) and children (2 to 15 years) in four rural communities in 2002 and 2004. Infant seven-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (7PCV) with booster 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine was introduced in 2001. Standard microbiological methods were used.
At the time of the 2002 survey, 94% of eligible children had received catch-up pneumococcal vaccination. 324 adults (538 examinations) and 218 children (350 examinations) were enrolled. Pneumococcal carriage prevalence was 26% (95% CI, 22-30) among adults and 67% (95% CI, 62-72) among children. Carriage of non-typeable H. influenzae among adults and children was 23% (95% CI, 19-27) and 57% (95% CI, 52-63) respectively and for M. catarrhalis, 17% (95% CI, 14-21) and 74% (95% CI, 69-78) respectively. Adult pneumococcal carriage was associated with increasing age (p = 0.0005 test of trend), concurrent carriage of non-typeable H. influenzae (Odds ratio [OR] 6.74; 95% CI, 4.06-11.2) or M. catarrhalis (OR 3.27; 95% CI, 1.97-5.45), male sex (OR 2.21; 95% CI, 1.31-3.73), rhinorrhoea (OR 1.66; 95% CI, 1.05-2.64), and frequent exposure to outside fires (OR 6.89; 95% CI, 1.87-25.4). Among children, pneumococcal carriage was associated with decreasing age (p < 0.0001 test of trend), and carriage of non-typeable H. influenzae (OR 9.34; 95% CI, 4.71-18.5) or M. catarrhalis (OR 2.67; 95% CI, 1.34-5.33). Excluding an outbreak of serotype 1 in children, the percentages of serotypes included in 7, 10, and 13PCV were 23%, 23%, and 29% (adults) and 22%, 24%, and 40% (2-15 years). Dominance of serotype 16F, and persistent 19F and 6B carriage three years after initiation of 7PCV is noteworthy.
Population-based carriage of S. pneumoniae, non-typeable H. influenzae, and M. catarrhalis was high in this Australian Aboriginal population. Reducing smoke exposure may reduce pneumococcal carriage. The indirect effects of 10 or 13PCV, above those of 7PCV, among adults in this population may be limited.
PMCID: PMC2974682  PMID: 20969800
9.  emm and C-Repeat Region Molecular Typing of Beta-Hemolytic Streptococci in a Tropical Country: Implications for Vaccine Development ▿  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2009;47(8):2502-2509.
We designed a study to investigate the molecular epidemiology of group A streptococcal (GAS) and group C and G streptococcal (GCS and GGS) disease in Fiji, a country which is known to have a high burden of streptococcal disease. Molecular typing of the N-terminal portion (emm typing) of the M protein was performed with 817 isolates (535 GAS and 282 GCS/GGS). We also performed genotyping of the C-repeat region in 769 of these isolates to identify J14 sequence types. The profile of emm types for Fiji was very different from that found for the United States and Europe. There were no dominant emm types and a large number of overlapping types among clinical disease states. Commonly found GAS emm types in industrialized countries, including emm1, emm12, and emm28, were not found among GAS isolates from Fiji. Over 93% of GAS isolates and over 99% of GCS/GGS isolates that underwent J14 sequence typing contained either J14.0 or J14.1. Our data have implications for GAS vaccine development in developing countries and suggest that a vaccine based upon the conserved region of the M protein may be a feasible option for Fiji and potentially for other tropical developing countries.
PMCID: PMC2725645  PMID: 19515838
10.  Normal Ranges of Streptococcal Antibody Titers Are Similar Whether Streptococci Are Endemic to the Setting or Not ▿  
Group A streptococcal (GAS) serology is used for the diagnosis of post-streptococcal diseases, such as acute rheumatic fever, and occasionally for the diagnosis of streptococcal pharyngitis. Experts recommend that the upper limits of normal for streptococcal serology be determined for individual populations because of differences in the epidemiology of GAS between populations. Therefore, we performed a study to determine the values of the upper limit of normal for anti-streptolysin O (ASO) and anti-DNase B (ADB) titers in Fiji. Participants with a history of GAS disease, including pharyngitis or impetigo, were excluded. A total of 424 serum samples from people of all ages (with a sample enriched for school-aged children) were tested for their ASO and ADB titers. Reference values, including titers that were 80% of the upper limit of normal, were obtained by regression analysis by use of a curve-fitting method instead of the traditional nonparametric approach. Normal values for both the ASO titer and the ADB titer rose sharply during early childhood and then declined gradually with age. The estimated titers that were 80% of the upper limit or normal at age 10 years were 276 IU/ml for ASO and 499 IU/ml for ADB. Data from our study are similar to those found in countries with temperate climates, suggesting that a uniform upper limit of normal for streptococcal serology may be able to be applied globally.
PMCID: PMC2643548  PMID: 19052157
11.  Prospective Surveillance of Invasive Group A Streptococcal Disease, Fiji, 2005–2007 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2009;15(2):216-222.
These infections are more common and case-fatality rate is higher in Fiji than in industrialized countries.
We undertook a prospective active surveillance study of invasive group A streptococcal (GAS) disease in Fiji over a 23-month period, 2005–2007. We identified 64 cases of invasive GAS disease, which represents an average annualized all-ages incidence of 9.9 cases/100,000 population per year (95% confidence interval [CI] 7.6–12.6). Rates were highest in those >65 years of age and in those <5 years, particularly in infants, for whom the incidence was 44.9/100,000 (95% CI 18.1–92.5). The case-fatality rate was 32% and was associated with increasing age and underlying coexisting disease, including diabetes and renal disease. Fifty-five of the GAS isolates underwent emm sequence typing; the types were highly diverse, with 38 different emm subtypes and no particular dominant type. Our data support the view that invasive GAS disease is common in developing countries and deserves increased public health attention.
PMCID: PMC2657613  PMID: 19193265
Streptococcus pyogenes; developing countries; Fiji; molecular epidemiology; streptococcal M protein; research
12.  Epidemiology of Streptococcus dysgalactiae subsp. equisimilis in Tropical Communities, Northern Australia 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2007;13(11):1694-1700.
This subspecies is common in communities with high rates of streptococcal disease, and its epidemiology differs from that of Streptococcus pyogenes.
Streptococcus dysgalactiae subsp. equisimilis (groups C and G streptococci [GCS/GGS]) is an increasingly recognized human pathogen, although it may follow indirect pathways. Prospective surveillance of selected households in 3 remote Aboriginal communities in Australia provided 337 GCS/GGS isolates that were emm sequence-typed. Lancefield group C isolates (GCS) were localized to specific households and group G isolates (GGS) were more evenly distributed. GCS/GGS was more frequently recovered from the throat than group A streptococci (GAS [S. pyogenes]) but rarely recovered from skin sores, and then only with Staphylococcus aureus or GAS. Symptomatic GGS/GGC pharyngitis was also rare. Specific emm sequence types of GCS/GGS did not appear to cycle through the communities (sequential strain replacement) in a manner suggesting acquisition of type-specific immunity. These communities already have high levels of streptococcal and poststreptococcal disease. GCS/GGS may increase in importance as it acquires key virulence factors from GAS by lateral gene transfer.
PMCID: PMC3375807  PMID: 18217553
Streptococcus dysgalactiae subsp. equisimilis; group C streptococci; group G streptococci; S. pyogenes; emm sequence typing; Aboriginal Australian; pyoderma; pharyngitis; research
13.  Use of a Single-Nucleotide Polymorphism Genotyping System To Demonstrate the Unique Epidemiology of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in Remote Aboriginal Communities 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2006;44(10):3720-3727.
Community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) has emerged as a major public health problem in Australia, as in many other parts of the world. High rates of CA-MRSA skin and soft tissue infection have been reported from Aboriginal communities. We used a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping typing system based on the multilocus sequence type (MLST) database to investigate the epidemiology of CA-MRSA and methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA) over a 12-month period in three remote Aboriginal communities of Northern Australia. This was supplemented by real-time PCR for Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) genes, staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec (SCCmec) typing, and antimicrobial susceptibility testing. S. aureus was recovered from pyoderma lesions on 221 occasions and throat swabs on 44 occasions. The median monthly recovery rate of S. aureus from skin sores was 58% (interquartile range, 62 to 78%), and there was no seasonal variation. Twenty-three percent of isolates were CA-MRSA; the proportion was similar across the communities and did not vary over the study period. Erythromycin resistance was found in 47% of CA-MRSA and 21% of MSSA. SNP-based typing identified 14 different clonal complexes (cc); however, cc75 was predominant, accounting for 71% of CA-MRSA isolates. These were confirmed as ST75-like by using an additional SNP and MLST of selected isolates. All but one of the cc75 isolates had SSCmec type IV (one had type V), and all were PVL negative. Monthly tracking of SNP-based cc types showed a highly dynamic process. ST75-MRSA-IV appears to be unique to the region and probably evolved de novo in remote Aboriginal communities.
PMCID: PMC1594797  PMID: 17021102
15.  The clinical course of acute otitis media in high-risk Australian Aboriginal children: a longitudinal study 
BMC Pediatrics  2005;5:16.
It is unclear why some children with acute otitis media (AOM) have poor outcomes. Our aim was to describe the clinical course of AOM and the associated bacterial nasopharyngeal colonisation in a high-risk population of Australian Aboriginal children.
We examined Aboriginal children younger than eight years who had a clinical diagnosis of AOM. Pneumatic otoscopy and video-otoscopy of the tympanic membrane (TM) and tympanometry was done every weekday if possible. We followed children for either two weeks (AOM without perforation), or three weeks (AOM with perforation), or for longer periods if the infection persisted. Nasopharyngeal swabs were taken at study entry and then weekly.
We enrolled 31 children and conducted a total of 219 assessments. Most children had bulging of the TM or recent middle ear discharge at diagnosis. Persistent signs of suppurative OM (without ear pain) were present in most children 7 days (23/30, 77%), and 14 days (20/26, 77%) later. Episodes of AOM did not usually have a sudden onset or short duration. Six of the 14 children with fresh discharge in their ear canal had an intact or functionally intact TM. Perforation size generally remained very small (<2% of the TM). Healing followed by re-perforation was common. Ninety-three nasophyngeal swabs were taken. Most swabs cultured Streptococcus pneumoniae (82%), Haemophilus influenzae (71%), and Moraxella catarrhalis (95%); 63% of swabs cultured all three pathogens.
In this high-risk population, AOM was generally painless and persistent. These infections were associated with persistent bacterial colonisation of the nasopharynx and any benefits of antibiotics were modest at best. Systematic follow up with careful examination and review of treatment are required and clinical resolution cannot be assumed.
PMCID: PMC1177962  PMID: 15955251
16.  Prospective Study of a Real-Time PCR That Is Highly Sensitive, Specific, and Clinically Useful for Diagnosis of Meningococcal Disease in Children 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2004;42(7):2919-2925.
Due to the early administration of antibiotics, meningococcal disease is increasingly difficult to diagnose by culturing. Laboratory studies have shown PCR to be sensitive and specific, but there have been few clinical studies. The objectives of this study were to determine the diagnostic accuracy and clinical usefulness of meningococcal PCR through a prospective comparison of real-time PCR, nested PCR, and standard culturing of blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The setting was a tertiary-care pediatric hospital in Australia, and the participans were 118 children admitted with possible septicemia or meningitis. The main outcome measures—sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values—were compared to a “gold standard ” fulfilling clinical and laboratory criteria. For 24 cases of meningococcal disease diagnosed by the gold standard, culturing of blood or CSF was positive for 15 (63%), nested PCR was positive for 21 (88%), and real-time PCR was positive for 23 (96%). The sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values of real-time PCR (the most sensitive test) for all specimens were, respectively, 96% (95% confidence interval, 79 to 99%), 100% (95% confidence interval, 96 to100%), 100% (95% confidence interval, 85 to 100%), and 99% (95% confidence interval, 94 to 100%). Of 54 patients with suspected meningococcal disease at admission, 23 had positive PCR results. Only one PCR specimen was positive in a patient thought unlikely to have meningococcal disease at admission. Blood PCR remained positive for 33% of patients tested at up to 72 h. Real-time PCR has high positive and negative predictive values in this clinical setting, with better confirmation of cases than nested PCR. Targeting patients for PCR based on admission criteria appears to be practical, and the test may remain useful for several days after the start of antibiotic administration.
PMCID: PMC446275  PMID: 15243039
17.  MMR immunisation  
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2001;323(7317):869.
PMCID: PMC1121404  PMID: 11683165
18.  Improvement in rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease management and prevention using a health centre-based continuous quality improvement approach 
Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) remains a major health concern for Aboriginal Australians. A key component of RHD control is prevention of recurrent acute rheumatic fever (ARF) using long-term secondary prophylaxis with intramuscular benzathine penicillin (BPG). This is the most important and cost-effective step in RHD control. However, there are significant challenges to effective implementation of secondary prophylaxis programs. This project aimed to increase understanding and improve quality of RHD care through development and implementation of a continuous quality improvement (CQI) strategy.
We used a CQI strategy to promote implementation of national best-practice ARF/RHD management guidelines at primary health care level in Indigenous communities of the Northern Territory (NT), Australia, 2008–2010. Participatory action research methods were employed to identify system barriers to delivery of high quality care. This entailed facilitated discussion with primary care staff aided by a system assessment tool (SAT). Participants were encouraged to develop and implement strategies to overcome identified barriers, including better record-keeping, triage systems and strategies for patient follow-up. To assess performance, clinical records were audited at baseline, then annually for two years. Key performance indicators included proportion of people receiving adequate secondary prophylaxis (≥80% of scheduled 4-weekly penicillin injections) and quality of documentation.
Six health centres participated, servicing approximately 154 people with ARF/RHD. Improvements occurred in indicators of service delivery including proportion of people receiving ≥40% of their scheduled BPG (increasing from 81/116 [70%] at baseline to 84/103 [82%] in year three, p = 0.04), proportion of people reviewed by a doctor within the past two years (112/154 [73%] and 134/156 [86%], p = 0.003), and proportion of people who received influenza vaccination (57/154 [37%] to 86/156 [55%], p = 0.001). However, the proportion receiving ≥80% of scheduled BPG did not change. Documentation in medical files improved: ARF episode documentation increased from 31/55 (56%) to 50/62 (81%) (p = 0.004), and RHD risk category documentation from 87/154 (56%) to 103/145 (76%) (p < 0.001). Large differences in performance were noted between health centres, reflected to some extent in SAT scores.
A CQI process using a systems approach and participatory action research methodology can significantly improve delivery of ARF/RHD care.
PMCID: PMC3878366  PMID: 24350582
Continuous quality improvement; Rheumatic fever; Rheumatic heart disease; Secondary prophylaxis
19.  Clinic Attendances during the First 12 Months of Life for Aboriginal Children in Five Remote Communities of Northern Australia 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e58231.
The vast majority (>75%) of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory (NT) live in remote or very remote locations. Children in these communities have high attendance rates at local Primary Health Care (PHC) centres but there is a paucity of studies documenting the reason and frequency of attendance. Such data can be used to help guide public health policy and practice.
Methods and Findings
Clinic presentations during the first year of life were reviewed for 320 children born from 1 January 2001–31 December 2006. Data collected included reason for infectious presentation, antibiotic prescription and referral to hospital. The median number of presentations per child in the first year of life was 21 (IQR 15–29) with multiple reasons for presentation. The most prominent infectious presentations per child during the first year of life were upper respiratory tract infections (median 6, IQR 3–10 ); diarrhoea (median 3, IQR 1–5); ear disease (median 3, IQR 1–5); lower respiratory tract infection (median 3, IQR 2–5); scabies (median 3, IQR 1–5); and skin sores (median 3, IQR 2–5).
Infectious diseases of childhood are strongly linked with poverty, poor living conditions and overcrowding. The data reported in our study were collected through manual review, however many remote communities now have established electronic health record systems, use the Key Performance Indicator System and are engaged in CQI (continuous quality improvement) processes. Building on these recent initiatives, there is an opportunity to incorporate routine monitoring of a range of infectious conditions (we suggest diarrhoea, LRTI, scabies and skin sores) using both the age at first presentation and the median number of presentations per child during the first year of life as potential indicators of progress in addressing health inequities in remote communities.
PMCID: PMC3585931  PMID: 23469270
20.  Rheumatic Fever Follow-Up Study (RhFFUS) protocol: a cohort study investigating the significance of minor echocardiographic abnormalities in Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander children 
In Australia, rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is almost exclusively restricted to Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander people with children being at highest risk. International criteria for echocardiographic diagnosis of RHD have been developed but the significance of minor heart valve abnormalities which do not reach these criteria remains unclear. The Rheumatic Fever Follow-Up Study (RhFFUS) aims to clarify this question in children and adolescents at high risk of RHD.
RhFFUS is a cohort study of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and adolescents aged 8–17 years residing in 32 remote Australian communities. Cases are people with non-specific heart valve abnormalities detected on prior screening echocardiography. Controls (two per case) are age, gender, community and ethnicity-matched to cases and had a prior normal screening echocardiogram. Participants will have echocardiography about 3 years after initial screening echocardiogram and enhanced surveillance for any history suggestive of acute rheumatic fever (ARF). It will then be determined if cases are at higher risk of (1) ARF or (2) developing progressive echocardiography-detected valve changes consistent with RHD.
The occurrence and timing of episodes of ARF will be assessed retrospectively for 5 years from the time of the RhFFUS echocardiogram. Episodes of ARF will be identified through regional surveillance and notification databases, carer/subject interviews, primary healthcare history reviews, and hospital separation diagnoses.
Progression of valvular abnormalities will be assessed prospectively using transthoracic echocardiography and standardized operating and reporting procedures. Progression of valve lesions will be determined by specialist cardiologist readers who will assess the initial screening and subsequent RhFFUS screening echocardiogram for each participant. The readers will be blinded to the initial assessment and temporal order of the two echocardiograms.
RhFFUS will determine if subtle changes on echocardiography represent the earliest changes of RHD or mere variations of normal heart anatomy. In turn it will inform criteria to be used in determining whether secondary antibiotic prophylaxis should be utilized in individuals with no clear history of ARF and minor abnormalities on echocardiography. RhFFUS will also inform the ongoing debate regarding the potential role of screening echocardiography for the detection of RHD in this setting.
PMCID: PMC3536578  PMID: 23186515
Rheumatic heart disease; Acute rheumatic fever; Screening; Aboriginal; Torres Strait Islander; Indigenous; Diagnosis; Prevention; Australia; Echocardiography
21.  A Regional Initiative to Reduce Skin Infections amongst Aboriginal Children Living in Remote Communities of the Northern Territory, Australia 
Linked to extreme rates of chronic heart and kidney disease, pyoderma is endemic amongst Aboriginal children in Australia's Northern Territory (NT). Many of those with pyoderma will also have scabies. We report the results of a community-based collaboration within the East Arnhem Region, which aimed to reduce the prevalence of both skin infections in Aboriginal children.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Commencing September 2004, we conducted an ecological study that included active surveillance for skin infections amongst children aged <15 years in five remote East Arnhem communities over a three year period. Screening was undertaken by trained local community workers, usually accompanied by another project team member, using a standard data collection form. Skin infections were diagnosed clinically with the aid of a pictorial flip chart developed for the purpose. Topical 5% permethrin was provided for age-eligible children and all household contacts whenever scabies was diagnosed, whilst those with pyoderma were referred to the clinic for treatment in accordance with current guidelines. In addition, annual mass scabies treatment (5% permethrin cream) was offered to all community residents in accordance with current guidelines but was not directly observed. Pyoderma and scabies prevalence per month was determined from 6038 skin assessments conducted on 2329 children. Pyoderma prevalence dropped from 46.7% at baseline to a median of 32.4% (IQR 28.9%–41.0%) during the follow-up period – an absolute reduction of 14.7% (IQR 4.7%–16.8%). Compared to the first 18 months of observation, there was an absolute reduction in pyoderma prevalence of 18 cases per 100 children (95%CI −21.0, −16.1, p≤0.001) over the last 18 months. Treatment uptake increased over the same period (absolute difference 13.4%, 95%CI 3.3, 23.6). While scabies prevalence was unchanged, the prevalence of infected scabies (that is with superimposed pyoderma) decreased from 3.7% (95%CI 2.4, 4.9) to 1.5% (95%CI 0.7, 2.2), a relative reduction of 59%.
Although pyoderma prevalence remained unacceptably high, there was a substantial reduction overall with improvements in treatment uptake a critical factor. More acceptable alternatives, such as cotrimoxazole for pyoderma and ivermectin as a community-wide scabicide, warrant further investigation in these settings. We are encouraged by progress made through this work, where local action was led by local community members and primary health care providers with external training and support.
Trial Registration NCT00884728
Author Summary
Skin infections are endemic in many in remote Australian Aboriginal communities and have been linked to very high rates of chronic heart and kidney disease in this population. We report the results of a regional collaboration that aimed to reduce skin infections amongst children aged less than 15 years in five remote communities. The program included annual mass scabies treatment days offered to all residents and routine screening/follow-up of children. Trained community workers helped conduct over 6000 skin assessments on 2329 children over a three year period. Of every 100 children seen at the commencement of the study, 47 were found to have skin sores and many had multiple sores. We demonstrate a reduction both in the number of children with skin sores and in the severity of those sores. On average, of every 100 children seen per month, there were 14 fewer children with skin sores and seven fewer children with multiple sores. Overall improvement in treatment uptake was a critical factor. We found no discernible impact against scabies. While the burden of skin infections remains unacceptably high, we believe the results presented here are a good news story for local action to address a serious public health problem.
PMCID: PMC2775159  PMID: 19936297
22.  High Burden of Impetigo and Scabies in a Tropical Country 
Impetigo and scabies are endemic diseases in many tropical countries; however the epidemiology of these diseases is poorly understood in many areas, particularly in the Pacific.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We conducted three epidemiological studies in 2006 and 2007 to determine the burden of disease due to impetigo and scabies in children in Fiji using simple and easily reproducible methodology. Two studies were performed in primary school children (one study was a cross-sectional study and the other a prospective cohort study over ten months) and one study was performed in infants (cross-sectional). The prevalence of active impetigo was 25.6% (95% CI 24.1–27.1) in primary school children and 12.2% (95% CI 9.3–15.6) in infants. The prevalence of scabies was 18.5% (95% CI 17.2–19.8) in primary school children and 14.0% (95% CI 10.8–17.2) in infants. The incidence density of active impetigo, group A streptococcal (GAS) impetigo, Staphylococcus aureus impetigo and scabies was 122, 80, 64 and 51 cases per 100 child-years respectively. Impetigo was strongly associated with scabies infestation (odds ratio, OR, 2.4, 95% CI 1.6–3.7) and was more common in Indigenous Fijian children when compared with children of other ethnicities (OR 3.6, 95% CI 2.7–4.7). The majority of cases of active impetigo in the children in our study were caused by GAS. S. aureus was also a common cause (57.4% in school aged children and 69% in infants).
These data suggest that the impetigo and scabies disease burden in children in Fiji has been underestimated, and possibly other tropical developing countries in the Pacific. These diseases are more than benign nuisance diseases and consideration needs to be given to expanded public health initiatives to improve their control.
Author Summary
Scabies and impetigo are often thought of as nuisance diseases, but have the potential to cause a great deal of morbidity and even mortality if infection becomes complicated. Accurate assessments of these diseases are lacking, particularly in tropical developing countries. We performed a series of studies in infants and primary school children in Fiji, a tropical developing country in the South Pacific. Impetigo was very common: more than a quarter of school-aged children and 12% of infants had active impetigo. Scabies was also very common affecting 18% of school children and 14% of infants. The group A streptococcus was the most common infective organism followed by Staphylococcus aureus. The size of the problem has been underestimated, particularly in the Pacific. It is time for more concerted public health efforts in controlling impetigo and scabies.
PMCID: PMC2694270  PMID: 19547749

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