What is known about communicable diseases in the Indigenous population?
Communicable diseases are diseases that are passed from person to person either by direct contact with an infected person or indirectly, such as through contaminated (dirty/unclean) food or water. Another example of indirect transmission is when the disease is spread through the air, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes and another person breathes in the air that contains the germs. Communicable diseases can be caused by:
- bacteria (e.g. tuberculosis)
- viruses (e.g. HIV)
- fungi (e.g. tinea)
- parasites (e.g. malaria) .
Improvements to personal and environmental cleanliness, and the introduction of new immunisations (vaccines), have greatly reduced the number of people who catch some communicable diseases .
If a person contracts (catches/develops) certain communicable diseases (like tuberculosis), the disease must be ‘notified’; this means that the information is collected by health authorities. Data from state and territory collections are collected and published by the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System (NNDSS), but Indigenous status is often not reported for large proportions of notifications. Recent information about communicable diseases includes:
- Tuberculosis: a lung infection caused by a bacterium that can trigger a range of symptoms, such as coughing, weight loss, and fever .
- Tuberculosis notifications were 11 times higher for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous people in 2005-2009[Derived from ].
- Hepatitis: an inflammation of the liver caused by viral infections, alcohol or other drugs, toxins, or an attack by the body's immune system on itself . The most common types of hepatitis are hepatitis A, B, and C.
- In 2010-2012:
- hepatitis A notifications were lower for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous people [Derived from ]
- hepatitis B notifications were three times higher for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous people [Derived from ]
- hepatitis C notifications were almost four times higher for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous people [Derived from ].
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib): a bacterium that can cause a range of illnesses, such as meningitis, septicaemia, and pneumonia .
- Notification rates for Hib were 20 times higher for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous people in 2010 .
- Invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD): caused by a bacterium and can lead to several major health conditions, such as pneumonia and meningitis .
- Notification rates for IPD were almost four times higher for Indigenous people than for other Australians in 2007-2010 .
- Meningococcal disease: caused by a bacterium and can lead to meningitis, meningococcaemia without meningitis, and septic arthritis .
- Notification rates for Indigenous children aged 0-4 years were nearly four times higher than those for non-Indigenous children in 2007-2010 .
- Sexually transmissible infections: caused by bacteria and viruses and can lead, if left untreated, to a range of health conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease in women .
- Notification rates for gonorrhoea, syphilis, and chlamydia were higher for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous people 2010-2012 [Derived from ].
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus): an infection that destroys cells in the body’s immune system .
- In 2012, the rate of HIV diagnosis was similar for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people .
- Skin infections and infestations
- Scabies is caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei and produces skin inflammation, itching, and can result in secondary infection . It is endemic in some remote central and northern Indigenous communities, with prevalence up to 50% in children and up to 25% in adults .
- In 2011-12, skin conditions accounted for around 3.9% of hospital admissions (excluding dialysis) for Indigenous people, 2.5 times the rate for other Australians .