Australia really is the ‘lucky country’. We have access to good food and water and a great climate and lifestyle, and some of the most liveable cities on the planet. We have also had a strongly declining rate of infectious diseases in the last hundred years or so.
However when it comes to infectious diseases, the reality is not so much about being ‘lucky’ but has more to do with good policies and practices around health and hygiene – such as vaccines, antibiotics, better living conditions, access to healthcare, improved nutrition, and strict quarantine laws.
The diseases involved and how past rates compare
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in the 74 years from 1921 to 1995, death rates from all infectious diseases fell markedly – from almost 19% to less than 1% of all deaths. This largely reflects improvements in hygiene as well as prevention and treatment methods for infections.
Some of the diseases include TB, meningococcal disease, septicaemia, viral hepatitis, diphtheria, polio, malaria, scarlet fever, sexually transmitted diseases, measles, and of course colds and influenza. Some of these are relatively rare now due to overall improvements in prevention and treatment.
The current situation
A Medical Journal of Australia article from 2014 states it was believed in 1914 that infectious diseases would soon be eradicated due to improvements in hygiene, standards of living, nutrition, and methods of treatment.
The reality is somewhat different though. While the rates have fallen considerably in Australia, it’s important to remain vigilant as some new diseases have emerged in recent times. Some of the emerging conditions have included Hep B and C, HIV, and the human papillomavirus which is associated with cervical cancer.
Some older infections still lurk about too, and could rise in incidence if we become lax about hygiene and infection control. Another factor to consider is that of drug resistance – such as antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that have emerged due to incomplete hygiene control. There is also the issue of indigenous populations, as these communities are often more prone to infectious diseases than the general population, often due to poorer living standards and access to healthcare.
Currently, the risk of all infectious disease rises with age, with the exception of meningococcal disease which actually decreases, being commonest in infants under one year of age. In 2008, the rate of death from infectious diseases was 1.3% according to the ABS, with septicaemia being the highest underlying cause, especially among older age groups.
How infection control and hygiene can help
With the decline in infectious disease in the general population it could be easy to become lax about hygiene.
However ‘everyday’ type infections such as food poisoning, flu, colds, and other illnesses still occur often and can be serious in some cases, such as for high risk individuals. These and other illnesses also lead to a lot of absenteeism in businesses all around Australia every year and a great deal of lost productivity.
As well as practising good hygiene, the use of professional commercial cleaners in offices, clinics and restaurants can go a long way towards reducing the risk of infectious illnesses. Professional cleaners can use hospital-strength, environmentally-safe disinfectants to ensure your premises is as hygienic as possible.