Funding boost for allergy research and care

3 minute read

A $27m grant will expand measures to rein in skyrocketing allergy rates and deaths.

A live anaphylaxis reporting database and a national drug allergy registry are among projects to be funded under a $26.9 million package to stop the relentless rise in allergy rates. 

About five million Australians, or one in five, has a drug, food, respiratory or insect allergic disease. 

Annual food anaphylaxis admission rates have multiplied by nine times from 1999 to 2019.  

“Rates of food allergy and anaphylaxis have been increasing in Australia. We have one of the highest rates of allergy, especially food allergy, in the world,” said Dr Preeti Joshi, paediatric clinical immunology and allergy specialist. 

Deaths from anaphylaxis in Australia have increased by 7% per year from 1997 to 2013, while fatalities from food anaphylaxis rise by around 10% each year, she said. 

Around 10 per cent of infants, 20 per cent of children aged 10 to 14 and 2-4% of adults have a food allergy. 

The $26.9m in federal government funding will boost allergy research and clinical care, expanding the National Allergy Strategy to become the National Allergy Council, while the Centre for Food & Allergy Research with be known as the National Allergy Centre of Excellence. 

A shared care model would address the need for better allergy care throughout Australia, said Dr Joshi, National Allergy Council director and co-chair and Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) representative. 

That’s particularly a problem in rural and remote areas where it can be difficult for patients to access specialists or diagnostic tests, she said. 

The shared care model would establish referral pathways for GPs and reduce wait times to see specialists, she said.  

“This model is designed to help improve education and training for all levels of health professionals and to define scope of practice, so the patient receives the right care at the right time from the right health professional and in the right place.”  

Dr Joshi said the National Allergy Council would provide drug allergy management guidelines for health professionals and collect data for a national registry of drug allergies and adverse reactions. This would lead to the first national de-labelling guidelines for health professionals. 

“Around 90% of people who think they’re allergic to penicillin actually are not allergic,” Dr Joshi said.  

“If they get de-labelled, it stops them having more toxic drugs and more expensive drugs, so it’s a win-win for everybody. But that process has to be clearly defined, and doctors need to know how to how to do it.”  

A national anaphylaxis reporting system will record every anaphylaxis hospital presentation, enabling faster reporting of allergens in food products that could potentially affect other people with allergies, she said.  

“It’s also really important for data collection, because we don’t know what the rate of anaphylaxis is on a national level and there’s no central repository of that information.” 

Dr Joshi said the funding would enable ASCIA’s free online modules on allergy and anaphylaxis for health professionals to continue, as well as Nip Allergies in the Bub and the Allergy 250K youth project. 

The psychosocial impacts of allergy were enormous but often forgotten, Dr Joshi said.  

“There’s data that shows that individuals at risk of food allergy and their carers have much higher average rates of anxiety.  

“One study showed that the quality of life of parents of children who had food allergies was lower than those who cared for children who had type 1 diabetes.” 

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