Patients treated for anaphylaxis at Ballarat hospitals will have their cases reported to the health department as part of a new notification scheme to help others avoid suffering the same fate.
New regulations have begun this month which require hospitals to notify the Department of Health and Human Services’ Food Safety Unit immediately or within 24 hours of anaphylaxis presentations to their emergency department where the suspected cause is the consumption of a packaged food.
And all other anaphylaxis cases must be notified within five days.
The new scheme was introduced after the death of a 10-year-old Victorian boy who was allergic to dairy products and drank a can of imported coconut drink which failed to declare the presence of milk as an ingredient on its label.
At the time, the department was not notified of suspicions that the drink was the likely cause of the of the boy’s anaphylactic reaction and the drink remained on sale for six weeks before being recalled, putting other milk-allergic consumers at risk.
Ballarat Health Services emergency department director Pauline Chapman welcomed the new notification requirements as an added safeguard for those at risk of a potentially-fatal anaphylactic reaction.
“The majority of people who have allergies to a foodstuff are very careful about what they eat but we can see them after eating food that was accidentally contaminated,” Dr Chapman said.
Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening severe allergic reaction that requires emergency treatment. It can occur in response to an allergen which may be a food, medication, plant, animals or insect bites.
Dr Chapman said patients typically began to feel unwell shortly after exposure to the allergen, with common symptoms including difficulty breathing with the sensation of the throat and lips swelling, an itchy rash, nausea, dizziness or racing heart which, if severe and untreated, could lead to multi-system collapse and death.
A DHHS spokesman said the new scheme would allow the Food Safety Unit to act quickly where a broader public health risk was uncovered.
”Presentations to hospitals of anaphylaxis where the suspected cause is a packaged food are the highest priority, and as a consequence, the regulations require these to be notified immediately by telephone,” the spokesman said.
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