Aussie researchers say asbestos-related diseases will remain high in Australia for decades

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A new narrative review recently published in the Medical Journal of Australia says the lack of data on occupational lung diseases in Australia is hampering the development of targeted interventions and timely identification of new hazardous exposures.

“Currently, very little information is collected regarding actual cases of occupational lung diseases in Australia. Most assumptions about many occupational lung diseases are based on extrapolation from overseas data, wrote authors, Dr. Ryan Hoy, a respiratory physician affiliated with Cabrini Medical Centre in Melbourne, and research fellow at Monash University’s Public Health and Preventive Medicine, and Associate Professor Fraser Brims, from Curtin Medical School and head of the Occupational and Respiratory Health Unit at the Institute for Respiratory Health at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth.

According to the authors, except for mesothelioma, about which data is collected by the Australian Mesothelioma Registry, there is currently a “minimal systemic collection of data” about occupational lung diseases, including work-related asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obliterative bronchiolitis, interstitial lung diseases (asbestosis, silicosis, and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis), asbestos-related lung diseases, and occupational lung cancer.

“Current data sources, such as workers’ compensation statistics, provide little insight into the problem and are insufficient to target prevention activities,” the authors wrote. “There is pressing need to gather systemic data on the causes, prevalence, incidence and impact of occupational lung diseases, such as a national occupational disease registry.”

The authors advised general practitioners to be meticulous in their history taking and suggested a series of questions to identify work-related factors.

In another narrative review published by the MJA, study authors led by Professor Bill Musk from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital said the rate of asbestos-related mesothelioma in the country was likely to remain high in global comparison “for some decades”.

“The numbers of new cases… have probably now reached their peak values in Australia, as in other most affected countries,” they wrote.

“The incidence of malignant mesothelioma commenced rising in the 1960s, but the long latency between exposure to asbestos and the onset of disease (the risk increases continuously and exponentially after 10-15 years, with a mean latency of 30-40 years) means that the peak has only now been reached.

“Given the continuing legacy of asbestos-containing materials in many Australian homes and buildings, there is increasing concern about people being exposed to asbestos when performing domestic tasks and renovations, and it is likely that the elevated prevalence of malignant mesothelioma in Australia will persist for some decades.”

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