Information updates

Allergy and COVID-19

10 July 2020

It is important that people with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma are using their treatments regularly and correctly, to maintain good health and prevent respiratory symptoms that can include coughing, sneezing and wheezing. 

With recent outbreaks of COVID-19 due to increased SARS-CoV-2 infections (currently in Victoria), treating allergic rhinitis and asthma is important for the following reasons:

  • To maintain good health by treating existing medical conditions.

  • To reduce coughing and sneezing, which can spread respiratory infections (e.g. colds, influenza, COVID-19).

  • To avoid allergy symptoms being mistaken for symptoms due to respiratory infections, including COVID-19.

Are people with allergic rhinitis and asthma at greater risk of getting COVID-19?

Most people with allergic rhinitis (hay fever), other allergies and asthma are not immunocompromised and are therefore not considered to be at greater risk of any respiratory infections, including COVID-19.

However, people with asthma (who often also have allergic rhinitis), should already be aware of the need to avoid infections and what to do if they become unwell or come in contact with any infectious disease. They are advised to follow the usual advice from their doctor. It is important that asthma and allergic rhinitis are well controlled and that inhalers or nasal sprays are used as directed by the treating doctor to reduce the impact of COVID-19 (and other infections), as much as possible.

Does wearing a face mask help?

Patients and health professionals may choose to, or may be requested to wear face masks to protect themselves and others from potential infections in medical facilities, and in public places where there are COVID-19 outbreaks. Information about the change in advice from the Australian government regarding the wearing of face masks is available on the ASCIA website:

www.allergy.org.au/about-ascia/info-updates/covid-19-and-face-masks

It is important to note that the use a face mask is NOT a substitute for the following actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Hand hygiene and avoidance of touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
  • Respiratory hygiene, including cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Staying at home when unwell, even with mild respiratory symptoms.
  • Physical distancing (staying >1.5 m away from others) and following government restrictions.

Can the immune system be “boosted” against infections such as COVID-19?

Despite various claims, there are currently NO recommended supplements or other agents which have been proven in conventional medical studies to boost immunity against infections such as COVID-19. Getting enough sleep, healthy eating, managing stress, regular exercise (whilst complying with government restrictions regarding physical distancing), and treating existing medical conditions to maintain good health will optimise immune system function. By combining these measures with the actions listed above, this may help reduce spread of infections, including COVID-19. 

More information about COVID-19: 

www.allergy.org.au/members/covid-19

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COVID-19 and Face Masks

10 July 2020

The Australian government has updated its advice regarding the wearing of face masks, in response to recent outbreaks of COVID-19 due to increased SARS-CoV-2 infections in Victoria.

Where there are COVID-19 outbreaks due to community spread (currently in Victoria) and physical distancing (staying at least 1.5 m away from others) is not possible, the wearing of face masks is now recommended when people are outside their homes for the reasons permitted under current government restrictions. Situations where it is not feasible to maintain physical distancing may include public transport and shopping for essential supplies. Face masks are also recommended for people who are at increased risk of severe illness if infected (e.g. due to their age or a chronic medical condition).  

Information on how to use face masks is on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks

It is important to note that the use a face mask is NOT a substitute for other actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Hand hygiene and avoidance of touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
  • Respiratory hygiene, including cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Staying at home when unwell, even with mild respiratory symptoms.
  • Physical distancing (staying >1.5 m away from others) and following government restrictions.

To safely put on a disposable face mask:

  • Wash your hands before putting on the mask.
  • Make sure it covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face.
  • Do not touch the front of the mask while it is on, or when removing it (and if you do so accidentally, wash or clean your hands immediately).
  • Wash your hands after removing the mask.

The WHO has updated its information on transmission of SARS-CoV-2: implications for infection prevention precautions, which includes new scientific evidence:

https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/transmission-of-sars-cov-2-implications-for-infection-prevention-precautions

SBS has translated information about COVID-19 available on its website:

https://www.sbs.com.au/language/coronavirus

Information about COVID-19 and Immunodeficiency:

https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/covid-19

Information about COVID-19 and Allergy:

https://www.allergy.org.au/about-ascia/info-updates/allergy-and-covid-19

More information about COVID-19: 

https://www.allergy.org.au/members/covid-19

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ASCIA Highlights 2020

8 July 2020

Whilst the past months have been challenging, ASCIA has continued to work on initiatives that support ASCIA’s Mission, to advance the science and practice of allergy and clinical immunology, by promoting the highest standard of medical practice, training, education and research, to improve the health and quality of life of people with allergy and other immune system disorders. 

ASCIA members will be invited to attend (by videoconference) the ASCIA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in early September 2020 and a draft agenda is on the ASCIA website www.allergy.org.au/members/ascia-agm.

In the meantime the following highlights from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020 can be viewed as a pdf at www.allergy.org.au/about-ascia/highlights

Education and Training 

ASCIA Website 

ASCIA Highlights 2020 website

From 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020 the ASCIA website had  over 3.3 million pageviews and over 1.885 million visits.

In 2020 two new ASCIA webpages have been developed in response to COVID-19 and telehealth changes.

www.allergy.org.au/members/covid-19

www.allergy.org.au/ascia-telehealth

All ASCIA anaphylaxis resources have been updated in 2020, including Guidelines, Action Plans and e-training courses. 

www.allergy.org.au/hp/anaphylaxis

ASCIA Online Training Courses

ASCIA continues to provide world leading online training, with more than 650,000 registrations since 2010.

ASCIA Highlights 2020 e-training 

ASCIA Conference

The next ASCIA Conference will be held in September 2021. This follows the hosting of a highly successful ASCIA 2019 Conference in Perth, Western Australia, in September 2019.

Submissions and Communication 

ASCIA Submissions and Reports

ASCIA lodged 15 submissions from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, including a submission to the Inquiry into Allergies and Anaphylaxis. The Inquiry Report was published in June 2020.

www.allergy.org.au/ascia-reports

ASCIA Newsletters

ASCIA has continued to inform members and the community each month (over 4,600 subscribers in 2020), about new and updated allergy and immunology information.

ASCIA Highlights newsletters 2020

Research 

AIFA Research Grants

In 2020 AIFA will award $110,000 in grants for allergy and immunology research, following $120,000 awarded in 2019.

ASCIA Highlights AIFA grants 2020

Plans for 2021 include:

  • Further expansion of ASCIA online resources, member services, AIFA research grants, collaborations and partnerships, including the National Allergy Strategy.
  • ASCIA 2021 Conference in Melbourne, Australia.
  • Completion of the National Immunodeficiency Strategy.
  • Continued work on the ASCIA Education Project. 

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Updated ASCIA Guidelines for the Acute Management of Anaphylaxis

2 July 2020

Acute Management of Anaphylaxis

In 2020 all ASCIA anaphylaxis resources and e-training courses have been reviewed and updated, and some new resources have been developed. This includes the recently updated ASCIA Guidelines for the Acute Management of Anaphylaxis, which are now on the ASCIA website www.allergy.org.au/hp/papers/acute-management-of-anaphylaxis-guidelines    

To view all ASCIA anaphylaxis resources and courses go to www.allergy.org.au/hp/anaphylaxis

The updated ASCIA Guidelines for the Acute Management of Anaphylaxis include:

  • Approximate timeframes for anaphylaxis to occur after being exposed to an allergen.
  • Amended statements about anaphylaxis management in pregnancy and infants.
  • An expanded section on posture during anaphylaxis.
  • Amended recommendations for overnight observation in hospital, to be consistent with clinical practice.

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World Allergy Week 2020

28 June to 4 July 2020

This week is World Allergy Week (28 June to 4 July 2020), a global campaign of the World Allergy Organisation (WAO), which aims to raise awareness of the impact of allergy in our communities. Whilst the global focus for this year's World Allergy Week was changed from Anaphylaxis to COVID-19 and Allergy, ASCIA is focusing on both of these areas in 2020. 

In 2020 all ASCIA anaphylaxis resources and e-training courses have been reviewed and updated, and some new resources have been developed. This includes the recently updated ASCIA Guidelines for the Acute Management of Anaphylaxis, which are now on the ASCIA website www.allergy.org.au/hp/papers/acute-management-of-anaphylaxis-guidelines    To view all ASCIA anaphylaxis resources and courses available go to www.allergy.org.au/hp/anaphylaxis

ASCIA COVID-19 and Telehealth Resources

ASCIA COVID19 informationSince early March 2020 ASCIA has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic through a range of actions, including the development of:

 For information about other new and updated ASCIA resources go to www.allergy.org.au/about-ascia/education-projects

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Online allergy testing

1 July 2020

ASCIA does NOT recommend online allergy testing.

Evidence-based tests and treatments for allergic disease can greatly improve the management of allergic disease and  quality of life. In contrast, the use of unscientific methods (including online allergy testing), that claim to test for, or treat allergies can result in misdiagnosis and ineffective treatments. 

Online tests and treatments for allergies/intolerances are NOT recommended for the following reasons: 

  • Use of unscientific methods for allergy/intolerances can result in misdiagnosis and ineffective treatments, which lead to potential harm, additional healthcare encounters, increased costs for the patient or carer and a greater burden on the healthcare system.
  • Unscientific tests for food intolerances can lead to unnecessary food restrictions that cause nutritional problems in adults and children, and growth issues in children.
  • Evidence-based allergy tests should only be ordered, performed and interpreted in the context of a clinical history, by a clinical immunology/allergy specialist, other doctor or nurse practitioner who are trained in allergy.
  • Evidence-based allergy treatments should only be prescribed following the interpretation of allergy test results in the context of a clinical history, by a clinical immunology/allergy specialist, other doctor or nurse practitioner who are trained in allergy.

The problems associated with therapeutic goods, services, or devices which claim to diagnose or treat allergies are addressed in recommendation 24 in the Report from the Parliamentary Inquiry into Allergies and Anaphylaxis, which states: The Committee recommends that the Therapeutic Goods Administration and any other relevant authorities, such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) conduct an independent, evidence-based review into all therapeutic goods, services, or devices which claim to diagnose or treat allergies. 

To view the Report go to: 
Inquiry Into Allergies and Anaphylaxis: Walking The Allergy Tightrope 

To view the ASCIA submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Allergies and Anaphylaxis go to: 
www.allergy.org.au/ascia-reports#s1

For information about evidence based allergy tests and treatments go to:

www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergy-testing

www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergy-treatment

For information about unscientific methods go to:

www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergy-testing/unorthodox-testing-and-treatment   

Medical Research and the Report from the Parliamentary Inquiry into Allergies and Anaphylaxis

Updated 1 July 2020

The Australian Government’s recognition of the importance of medical research into allergies and anaphylaxis is highlighted in the report from the Parliamentary Inquiry into Allergies and Anaphylaxis, tabled in Parliament on 15 June 2020. www.allergy.org.au/about-ascia/info-updates/inquiry-into-allergies-and-anaphylaxis-report-15-june-2020

Implementing the recommendations in the report will lead to improved outcomes for patients and the community, including research into causes and treatment of allergies and anaphylaxis. This is consistent with the aim of the Allergy and Immunology Foundation of Australasia (AIFA), which has supported research into allergy and other immune system disorders since 2014.

AIFA is an initiative of ASCIA, which was recognised in the report as having a pivotal and leading role in improving the care of people with allergic disease. AIFA has made an ongoing commitment to support researchers working on the complexities of the immune system, including allergic disease. Their work is fundamental to finding new treatments.

In 2020 AIFA will award a total $110,000 to allergy and immunology research, and the closing date for expressions of interest is 28 August 2020For details go to  www.allergyimmunology.org.au/grants

To make a donatation for 2021 AIFA grants go to www.allergyimmunology.org.au/donate

Thank you to our generous donors and sponsors who have made the following 2020 AIFA grants possible:

  • $40,000 - AIFA Food Allergy Research Grant
  • $30,000 - AIFA Allergy (other than food allergy) or Autoimmunity Research Grant
  • $15,000 - AIFA Primary Immunodeficiencies Clinical Research Grant (supported by CSL Behring)
  • $15,000 - AIFA Hereditary Angioedema Clinical Research Grant (supported by CSL Behring)
  • $10,000 - AIFA Food Allergy Research Grant (supported by DBV Technologies)

At a time when medical research is more important than ever, we believe that the annual AIFA grants play a vital role, by providing seed funding, encouraging emerging researchers and promoting more allergy and immunology research in Australia and New Zealand.

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Inquiry into Allergies and Anaphylaxis - Report Released

Updated 1 July 2020

The Report on the Parliamentary Inquiry into Allergies and Anaphylaxis Walking the allergy tightrope - Addressing the rise of allergies and anaphylaxis in Australia was tabled on Monday 15 June 2020 in the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.  pdfWalking the allergy tightrope1.15 MB

ASCIA welcomes the recommendations in the Report and the recognition of ASCIA’s pivotal and leading role in improving the care of Australians with allergic disease. 

ASCIA takes this opportunity to thank the Health Minister, Hon Greg Hunt MP for the continued recognition, acknowledgement and support of issues regarding allergies and anaphylaxis by the Australian government, which led to his announcement of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Allergies and Anaphylaxis at the national ASCIA Conference in September 2019.

ASCIA also thanks the Committee Chair, Trent Zimmerman MP, Deputy Chair, Dr Mike Freelander MP, panel members including Dr Katie Allen MP, and the committee Secretariat for their excellent work in conducting this Inquiry, as well as the individuals and organisations who made submissions to the Inquiry.

ASCIA is looking forward to working closely with the Australian Government over the coming months in response to the Report recommendations. 

To view the Australian Government media release about the Report go to:
 
To view the Report go to: 

To view the ASCIA submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Allergies and Anaphylaxis, the ASCIA opening address to the Inquiry hearing and the ASCIA pre-budget 2020-2021 submission go to www.allergy.org.au/ascia-reports#s1

Whilst ASCIA supports all of the recommendations in the Report, we believe that implementing certain key recommendations as a priority will address major issues and result in significant improvements to the health of Australians with allergic disease, with immediate and long term impact. We have grouped the relevant issues along common ‘themes’ as shown in the table below.

 Issues

Report recommendations

Education, Training and Resources for Health Professionals

5

Access to Care – Workforce, Telehealth and MBS Item Numbers 

6, 7, 8, 13, 23

Collaborations and Research

1, 2

Implementation of these Report recommendations (listed below) will:

  • Improve education and training in allergies and anaphylaxis for health professionals.
  • Improve access to care through workforce, telehealth and item number changes.
  • Standardise allergy care and management to improve the quality of patient care.
  • Increase research into allergies and anaphylaxis.
Education, Training and Resources for Health Professionals

Recommendation 5:

The Committee recommends that the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) receive ongoing long term funding to continue its partnership work with the Department of Health and the National Allergy Strategy, to develop minimum standards of allergy training for health professionals including:

  • funding for the promotion of the e-resources ASCIA has already developed to all relevant communities throughout Australia;
  • minimum standards of allergy training in the curriculum for all university medical schools and training of general practitioners, physicians and paediatricians, nurse practitioners, psychologists, dietitians, and paramedics; and
  • funding support for ASCIA to provide training for all health professionals listed above.
Access to Care – Workforce, Telehealth and MBS Item Numbers

Recommendation 6 

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government provide telehealth funding support for doctors and allied health workers in order to provide professional services and support to allergy patients in rural, regional and remote Australia.

Recommendation 7  

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider a Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS) item number for food challenges carried out by appropriate clinicians.

Recommendation 8  

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government provides funding for a public health system drug de-labelling program including:

  • developing a program in the public health system to run community education campaigns to encourage people to participate in drug allergy de-labelling programs;
  • create clinical guidelines for drug allergy de-labelling; and
  • give consideration to the need for a Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) item number for drug allergy testing and drug allergy challenges.

Recommendation 13

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with states and territories to:

  • review the sufficiency of the current allergist and immunologist workforce in hospitals throughout Australia; and
  • ensure that there is funding for increased placements of these specialists in all hospitals (if a need is found).

Recommendation 23  

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government give consideration of how best to increase the utilisation of nurses and allied health care workers to support the care of patients with allergic disease.

Collaborations and Research

Recommendation 1 

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with the states and territories to establish a National Centre for Allergies and Anaphylaxis in Australia, to ensure there is a national standardised approach to allergy management.  

Recommendation 2  

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government dedicate additional funding into food allergies and anaphylaxis research, in particular funding for:

  • the Centre for Food and Allergy Research (CFAR) so it can continue its work past 2022 (if Recommendation 1 has not been implemented by expanding CFAR to become a National Centre for Allergies and Anaphylaxis);
  • clinical research into food allergy treatments (including allergies outside of peanut allergy) in particular into food based oral immunotherapy, including head-to-head trials (trials with no placebo);
  • research into emerging allergic diseases such as eosinophilic oesophagitis and food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES);
  • research into the social and psychological effects of allergies and anaphylaxis; and
  • establishing a national register for anaphylactic episodes and death.

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