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Every week, the Pharmacy Self Care Program (from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia) publishes a Health Care Facts column.  This also appears in the Herbert River Express every week.

For your convenience, they will be published here - feel free to browse back over past editions.


John Bell Column 19 Dec 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –19 Dec 2012



Vaccination – give it your best shot in 2013


Probably the greatest desire we have as parents is to make sure our children remain healthy and avoid serious illness.

No parent would knowingly put their child’s life at risk; however, according to leading scientists and medical specialists, this is what is happening as a result of misleading and inaccurate claims by an anti-vaccine campaign group.

The number of Australian babies not fully immunised is now one in 12 with the number of parents registering a conscientious objection rising from about 4,000 in 1999 to more than 30,000 this year.

Professor Ian Frazer, who developed the cervical cancer vaccine, has warned of the dangerous fall in immunisation rates for diseases such as whooping cough which has now reached epidemic levels. More than 13,000 cases were recorded last year in NSW alone; and Australia wide there were more than 7,000 cases in the first three months of 2012.

According to Professor Frazer, with effective immunisation programs and as infectious diseases have become less common in the last 50 years, people have become less aware of the need to vaccinate their children; and because parents rarely saw diseases such as measles and mumps they did not understand that measles could kill and cause brain damage and mumps could cause male sterility.

While ignorance and lack of thought are probably major reasons for our unsatisfactory rates of immunisation, there are undoubtedly other factors too.  Fear, for instance; fear of pain and, more likely, fear of adverse effects - a fear which has been perpetrated by organisations such as the Australian Vaccination Network. This organisation has been ordered recently to change its name by the NSW Minister of Fair Trading because “it poses a serious risk of misleading the community”.

In reality, studies show clearly that the process of immunisation is possibly the safest, most effective disease prevention measure ever introduced – perhaps rivalled only by the ready availability of good clean drinking water.

Up to date, objective and evidence-based information has recently been produced by the Australian Academy of Science with the publication of their booklet The Science of Immunisation: Questions and Answers. (You can download a copy or order a free hardcopy at And to get an idea on just how emotion can cloud a sensible debate, read the book The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin.

The fact is that no medical procedure is 100% safe and effective, and this also applies to vaccines; but, without doubt, the benefits far outweigh the risks.  Serious consequences are extremely rare – far less likely to occur than the chance of suffering the severe and often life-threatening symptoms of the disease itself.

The most common side-effects, such as a sore arm, slight fever or feeling unwell for a few days, are easily treated; but the diseases immunisation prevents are not.

The full childhood immunisation schedule is set out clearly on a “fact card” available at all pharmacies in Australia providing the Self Care health information.  It details the most appropriate age for all vaccines to be given from birth onwards.

If immunisation is not started on time or if a dose is missed, don’t despair; a new program can be worked out with the assistance of your doctor.  Even as an adult there is an important immunisation schedule, especially if you’re travelling overseas. Trials are currently underway for a vaccine against malaria – a disease which kills 3 million people globally every year; and a vaccine against shingles (caused by the same virus as chickenpox) is now available.

For more detailed information simply pick up the Childhood Immunisation fact card from a pharmacy providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information.  Phone 1300 369 772 for the nearest location or log onto the website click on “Self Care” then “Find a Self Care Pharmacy”.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 12 Dec 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –12 Dec 2012



Relieving red eye

In cattle the term “pink eye” refers to a specific bacterial infection known as IBK (infectious bovine kerato-conjunctivitis).

It’s a painful, distressing condition that can severely affect animal productivity. When both eyes are affected cattle may die from thirst, starvation or accidents. Trigger factors are dusty conditions, flies, bright sunlight and physical irritation from things such as thistles.

In the human population “pink eye” or maybe more commonly in Australia, “red eye” are terms generally used to describe conjunctivitis, simply meaning inflammation of the conjunctiva, by whatever cause. (The conjunctiva is that thin, clear film that lies on the inside of the eyelids and covers the white part of the eyeball.)

The cause may be bacterial, but more often not. Viral conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis and conjunctivitis associated with the wearing of contact lenses might be considered the more likely suspects. The trigger factors could be sometimes similar to those in cattle (but you would think thistles would rarely be involved) and  whilst in cattle the damage can be so severe that blindness can be permanent, in humans the condition is often self limiting; or responds to simple self-management procedures.

Nevertheless, there are occasions when reference to a doctor is necessary for investigation and/or treatment to minimise the risk of serious complications. These occasions would include when there is severe eye pain or swelling, when the eyes are sensitive to light, if there is an eye injury or foreign body in the eye, and if there is headache, nausea or vomiting also present. In any event, check with your pharmacist before you self medicate.

The most commonly prescribed drops for eye infections contain the antibiotic chloramphenicol; and these eye drops are now available as pharmacist-only non-prescription medicines; however they shouldn’t necessarily be the first-choice treatment. Depending on your symptoms, antihistamine drops, artificial tears, saline irrigation or even non-medication management might be better options.

Dry eye is another common cause of “red eye”, usually as a result of inadequate production or tear fluid or increased evaporation of tears. The problem increases with age and is more common in women; and some medical conditions and many medicines can cause or worsen the effects of dry eye. Lubricating or moisturising eye drops, gels and ointments are very useful; but don’t forget to tell your pharmacist if you are taking any prescription medicines. You may just have identified the cause. Certain blood pressure medicines, hormone treatments, sedating antihistamines and antidepressants are just some of the medicines which could be implicated.

So-called vasoconstrictor eye drops (they contain ingredients such as naphazoline, phenylephrine and tetrahydrozoline) are amongst the most popular for reducing redness, congestion and discomfort caused by dust, smoke, swimming, eye strain and colds; however the actual benefit of these products is uncertain and they can have side effects, especially if used long term. Overuse can cause rebound congestion and redness. So, these drops should not be used for more than five consecutive days. For chronic dry eye conditions the moisturising/lubricating eye drops can be use daily, or even several times a day, on a continuing basis.

Remember, multi-use containers of all eye drops should be discarded four weeks after opening to avoid contamination and possible (re)infection. If you need eye drops only for occasional use, then the boxes of single use drops will be more economical.

You can get more advice on the best way to treat eye problems from those pharmacies around Australia which provide the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information. There’s a special “fact card’ titled Red and Dry Eyes. The Vision Impairment and Contact Lens Care fact cards might also be useful.

For the location of the pharmacy nearest you providing the Self Care information, phone the Pharmaceutical Society on 1300 369 772 or check out the website:

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 05 Dec 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –05 Dec 2012



Good health gift ideas


For many people, Christmas has deep religious significance; for others, it’s simply a time to relax and enjoy a few days off work. But for almost everyone, this time of year has traditionally become one of celebration.

Throughout many societies it is commonplace to exchange gifts or simply ‘season’s greetings’, and to express sentiments of peace and goodwill. Wishes of good health usually accompany greetings at this time of year; so, perhaps some healthy gift ideas could be worth a thought as well.

The original gifts of Christmas were reported to be gold, frankincense and myrrh. And whilst it’s unlikely they’re on too many shopping lists today there are actually websites offering these items as a “deluxe three box set” for around $50.

Of course, if jewellery is what you’d like to give, or receive, you could consider something from Medic Alert.  Although, a Medic Alert gift is not just a piece of high-quality jewellery, it also provides protection for you and your family – 24 hours a day.  On each bracelet or necklet, your personal emergency information is custom engraved, together with the 24-hour hotline phone number for health and emergency personnel to access if necessary.  The Medic Alert system also provides a confidential national database, staffed by trained personnel, which holds important additional information such as current medications, doctor's name and next-of-kin.

Just about anyone will benefit from the gift of a Medic Alert bracelet or necklet; but it will be especially helpful for those people with food, drug, chemical or insect allergies; people with an implant such as a pacemaker; people with conditions such as diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s or Parkinson’s disease; or people with special needs or on special medication.  Medic Alert is the ultimate in patient protection in emergency situations or unforeseen adverse events.

There is a wide range of Medic Alert products – solid gold, gold filled, sterling silver or stainless steel – in various designs.  Check out the website at:

It seems sometimes, there is much more emphasis on the gifts than the goodwill; with more expensive and sophisticated gadgets being among the most fancied gift suggestions.

So-called smart phones can now provide just about every service imaginable; even facilitating phone calls!  And miniature music machines can contain thousands of songs or instrumentals downloaded from computers.  “Pads” and “tablets” are now purchased from electronics stores rather than stationers or pharmacies. We’ve got iPhones, iPods and iPads; maybe sometime soon we might get a Christmas iPud with some extra apple in with the mixed fruit.

Meanwhile, if you are really electronically inclined, you might consider a home-use blood pressure measuring device (called a sphygmomanometer by the medicos); it’s a useful gift for someone whose blood pressure might need monitoring.  And for people with diabetes the now miniature-size blood glucose measuring machines are a must – the new ones are even smaller than the iPod type music machine, and with the added bonus of no risk of industrial deafness with regular use.

If it's your teeth and gums that need stimulating, then the vibrating, oscillating and pulsating electronic toothbrushes will do the job.  The expense might just save you an extra visit or two to the dentist.

Still searching for ideas?  How about a first aid kit?  There are ready prepared varieties for work, home or keeping in the car; or your pharmacist can help you tailor-make one for your own personal needs.  And if you already have a first aid kit, make sure the contents are usable and not out of date.  Ask at your local Self Care Pharmacy for more information and pick up a First Aid in the Home fact card.  Phone the Pharmaceutical Society on 1300 369 772 or check out the website for the nearest location.


Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 28 Nov 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –28 Nov 2012



HIV/AIDS, getting to zero


One of the themes for World AIDS Day is “getting to zero”. The realisation of that aim seems a long way off, but the latest report from UNAids (the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS) indicated a significant decline in new infections worldwide amongst both adults and children and an increasing number of people on antiretrovirals (ARVs) – the medicines used to suppress the virus and prevent the progression of the disease.

It’s now more than 30 years since the first reported case of AIDS; and although the number of deaths globally has fallen for the fifth year in a row (to around 1.7 million people in 2001) there are still about 7000 new HIV infections diagnosed every day.

And we have no cause for complacency in Australia. Over the past five years here the number of HIV infections diagnosed has been stable at about 1000 per year; however in 2011 there was an 8% increase on the previous year.

Twenty four years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared 1 December the first World AIDS Day.  Its aim was, and remains, to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS issues, and particularly the need for support and understanding for people living with HIV/AIDS.

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus.  It is primarily transmitted in blood, semen and vaginal fluids via unprotected sex or sharing injecting equipment.  HIV belongs to a group of viruses called retroviruses and HIV has been identified as the virus that causes AIDS.

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is not a single disease.  It is a broad range of conditions that occur when a person’s immune system is seriously damaged after years of attack by the HIV.  The terms HIV and AIDS are not interchangeable.  It is important to remember that a person who is infected with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS.  However, all people with AIDS have been infected with HIV.

HIV damages the body’s immune system and renders the body vulnerable to other diseases and infections – its symptoms are most commonly similar to those of any chronic viral infection.  During advanced stages of HIV infection, a person may develop any of a number of so-called opportunistic infections considered to be AIDS defining illnesses.

The ability of HIV to live outside the body is very limited and, therefore, HIV is not particularly easy to transmit.  It is a communicable disease, but it is not contagious like air-borne viruses such as influenza.  HIV cannot be transmitted by hugging, shaking hands, coughing or sneezing.  Nor can it be transmitted by sharing glasses, cups or utensils or by insect bite.

There are three main modes of HIV transmission: unprotected anal and vaginal sexual intercourse; sharing drug injecting equipment; and mother to child transmission during pregnancy, birth or breast feeding.

Exposure to HIV contaminated blood is another potential route of transmission.  Injecting drug users who share needles and syringes are at risk of HIV infection because there is often a small amount of blood left in the syringe after injection.  So there are times when sharing is not always caring.

This type of exposure can also occur during skin piercing and tattooing procedures if equipment has not been properly sterilised after having previously being used on someone with HIV.  Body piercing or tattooing should always be undertaken at licensed studios that use new inkpots for each procedure and disposable needles or an autoclave to sterilise equipment.

You can get more information about HIV and AIDS from pharmacies around Australia providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information (ask for the HIV/AIDS fact card). For the nearest “Self Care” pharmacy, phone 1300 369 772 or log onto the website Click on Self Care then Find a Self Care Pharmacy.


Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 21 Nov 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –21 Nov 2012



Adding some more slop to the slip and slap


Despite strange weather patterns around Australia, the calendar tells us summer is arriving soon.  So it’s about now that, on a personal level, greater areas of skin get displayed.  Whilst this is an understandable response to high temperature and high humidity, there are some common sense precautions we need to take.

Research undertaken by the Cancer Council and the Australian Department of Health and Ageing shows that it’s not just the day, or even several days, at the beach that causes the most sun damage to our skin.  The many days spent involved with everyday activities, without adequate protection from the sun, might be even more dangerous.  And with most states in Australia now “saving daylight”, there is the possibility we will have more usable leisure time in the sunshine.

The “Slip, Slop, Slap” campaign was launched by the Cancer Council Australia more than 30 years ago and has proved to be one of the most successful public health campaigns. The message since then has been slightly modified to incorporate the words “Seek” and “Slide” into the call to action.  That is, not only slip on a hat, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat, but also seek some shade and slide on some sunglasses.

With regard to sunscreens it’s well recognised that they are identified according to the level of protection from sunburn they provide; and this is promoted on labels by way of the Sun Protection Factor or so-called SPF rating.

Until recently the maximum SPF rating permitted to be advertised in Australia was 30+, but now the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has authorised the display of an SPF rating of up to 50+.

For most Australians, definitely all of us who have inherited the northern European or Anglo/Celtic skin type, a 50+ product should be the sunscreen of choice. One of the advantages of the newly labelled sunscreens is that there is greater certainty that they are truly “broad spectrum”. That is they protect against both UVB and UVA wavelengths of sunlight. The old rating was only indicative of protection from the burning UVB rays, however the deeply penetrating UVA rays are equally likely to cause cancer.

All this doesn’t mean you have to throw away your present 30+ sunscreen. Many 30+ brands already give at least 50+ protection, and are also broad spectrum. Check with your pharmacist to confirm which products are suitable for you.

If you really want your skin to look darker, using a solarium should not be an option.  It’s quite clear now that solarium tans are not safe tans.  As well as causing immediate skin and eye damage, the UV radiation from solariums can markedly increase your risk of skin cancer.  Whatever they are called – solariums, tanning beds, sun-beds or sunlamps – these artificial generators of UV rays are just man-made cancer factories.

Solariums are sometimes advertised as a way to “pre-tan” in anticipation of the hotter weather to come, and so protect your skin from the sun.  In fact, tanning without burning can still cause skin damage, premature skin ageing and skin cancer.

If you must have a tan, a fake tan is the best option.  There are a number of products your pharmacist can recommend which offer a much safer alternative to the sun-induced or solarium-induced variety.

You can get more advice and a Sense in the Sun fact card on how to stay sun smart this summer, from pharmacies providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information.  Phone 1300 369 772 for the location of your nearest Self Care pharmacy or check out the Pharmaceutical Society website at and click on “Self Care” then “Find a Self Care Pharmacy”.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

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