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Allergy Today: From Mark's Desk July 2021

Welcome to Allergy Today. Please help us raise allergy awareness by sharing our free e-newsletter with others every time you receive your copy.

Winter has arrived and with it comes the onset of common colds and related respiratory illnesses. It has also been complicated this year with many symptoms being confused with those of COVID-19 and now the spread of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

For allergy sufferers, the confusion caused by symptoms shared across different health conditions is nothing new. Unfortunately, the only way to reduce other people’s judgement of your symptoms is to educate them. Allergy NZ actively raises awareness and education of allergies every day. You can also help by providing accurate information to the people in your immediate circle.

It may mean more judgement from an expected few, but for those workmates and friends who do listen or empathise, their subsequent support can make a significant difference to your wellbeing.

Here are some evidence-based facts to share next time it is appropriate:
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  • Pollen and dust mite allergies (Allergic Rhinitis) are very common in New Zealand. More than 30 per cent of our population suffer from them.
  • Unlike pollen allergy, dust mite allergy is a condition that shares similar symptoms with the common cold, flu and other respiratory illnesses. However, it can be a year-round condition!
  • Its symptoms do not typically fluctuate because of seasonal changes in New Zealand, whereas cold viruses are not as common in our summer months.
  • Vaccines and total avoidance (bubbles) remain the only strategy to reduce our risk of contracting viruses.
  • Dust mite and airborne allergies have no cure, so prevention remains the best strategy for their management or mitigation, beyond continuing to treat their symptoms.
  • Efficacy is improving for immunotherapy, and it is worth exploring these options with your GP or allergy specialist.
  • The principle difference between cold and allergy symptoms remains the length of time it takes for your symptoms to clear.
    • The worst symptoms of a cold usually taper off after about seven days.
    • Dust allergy symptoms will last for as long as you’re around the dust mites, and, unlike colds, can include itchy, watery eyes and trigger eczema.
  • It makes sense then to avoid or eradicate dust mites from your living environments. Moisture and heat – humidity – create the best environs for dust mites to thrive. So, a dry, dust-free environment at home and at work is optimal.

We can’t guarantee that the sharing of information will remove all judgement, but in our experience, improved awareness is often the first step to inclusive behaviour.

PHARMAC Review

Allergy New Zealand has been invited to participate in a consumer and advocacy workshop, which will help to gain insight into the experiences of consumers and patients regarding their interactions with PHARMAC and medicine funding.

It will be hosted by an independent review panel and chaired by Sue Chetwin. This PHARMAC review is due in part to the Allergy Awareness Week support of Patient Voice Aotearoa’s recent petition. Thank you to everyone who added their signature, or joined the protest action around the country on 1 June.

More than 100,000 signatures were presented to the Health Minister on Parliament’s steps by Malcolm Mulholland, of Patient Voice Aotearoa. The petition urges the Minister to conduct an external reform of PHARMAC and to double the budget that PHARMAC currently receives immediately, with a plan to triple the PHARMAC budget within two years.

More than one in 50 Kiwis agreed with the need to change the current methods and capacity of PHARMAC. This workshop will feed into the external reform information gathering phase. You can keep up with the Parliamentary Petitions Committee progress here: Petition

Allergy Awareness Week Online Survey Results

We were fortunate to receive funding from a Ministry of Social Development grant application to undertake a COVID-19-related survey to assess the impact on New Zealanders living with allergies.

Thank you to all those who provided valuable feedback in the survey. Please check our NewsBite on the high-level results here.

We will share your valuable feedback with the Government to improve allergy sufferer support in response plans for future food and medicine national supply crises.

MIQ Food Allergy Mis-Management

We have heard from a number of from people who are experiencing repeatedly poor levels of food allergen management while staying in MIQ facilities. It is concerning that it is being reported from guests serving their quarantine isolation period in all levels of MIQ facility - from 3 Star to 5 Star+ hotels.

There also appears to be confusion or ignorance demonstrated by MIQ facility management on how to manage the subsequent complaints from food allergy sufferers who are stuck with no alternate food source. The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has clarified the regulatory position as a result of enquiries made by Allergy New Zealand.

Please read about Penny Jorgensen’s thorough investigation, her work with those affected and the regulatory authorities – MBIE & MPI, and the subsequent positive outcomes achieved here.

Allergy Update

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We were thrilled to host another event in May of our popular Continuing Medical Education seminars for Primary Care Health Professionals. These are supported by Nutricia and endorsed by the RNZCGP with 2.30 CME points per seminar.

Our three clinical presenters updated attendees from our offices in Mt Eden, Auckland on the prescribing changes for special formulae for infants with cows milk/multiple food allergies - Anna Richards; Allergic Rhinitis - Dr Andy Baker; and Hives - Allergic or Spontaneous - Dr Rebekah Wilson.

The event was livestreamed to a record number of registered health care professionals around the country. Their feedback on the quality of our presenters and content was once again very positive. We will be hosting our next event in our Allergy Update series with Nutricia’s support in October/November this year.

FSANZ

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) recently celebrated its 25th anniversary as a successful cross-border statutory agency. FSANZ was established to harmonise food standards, reduce compliance costs and remove regulatory barriers to trade in food between Australia and New Zealand. It came into force in 1996.

In 2000, it was further agreed that FSANZ would also be responsible for developing and setting Food Standards. FSANZ develops standards that regulate the use of ingredients, processing aids, colourings, additives, vitamins and minerals. The Food Standards Code also covers the composition of some foods, such as dairy, meat and beverages, as well as foods developed by new technologies, such as genetically modified foods. They are also responsible for some labelling requirements for packaged and unpackaged food, for example specific mandatory warnings or advisory labels.

The Food Standards Code is obviously a central instrument to protect the food safety of all New Zealanders. Allergy NZ works closely with FSANZ to promote best practice in regard to food allergen management and the integrity of food sourcing, manufacturing, packaging and labelling practices i.e. promoting food safety from paddock to plate!

We engage with FSANZ via the Allergen Collaboration, which was established by FSANZ in 2011 to strengthen engagement and collaboration among a range of stakeholders involved in managing food allergens.

Members of the collaboration, including food manufacturing, consumer and government representatives, meet to explore non-regulatory measures that can improve the management of food allergens.

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To date, the collaboration:

  • Audits all existing allergen communication material.
  • Has developed a free training video for food service staff. (Produced by Allergy New Zealand)
  • Reviews and revises key messages about food allergen management for various sectors throughout the food chain.

The benefits of our founding membership with the Allergen Collaboration, and our close work with FSANZ, was demonstrated earlier this year when the Food Standards Code was amended to introduce new requirements for the labelling of allergens in food. www.foodstandards.govt.nz

Allergy NZ Strategic Review

At our 2019 AGM, Allergy New Zealand adopted the Board’s inaugural Five-Year Strategic Plan through to 2024. Last month, our Board completed its halfway review to ensure the organisation is on track to meet its objectives. They endorsed the progress to date as well as the existing plan.

An added fresh focus was requested for collaboration with all communities, particularly those highlighted by research published on the increased rate of hospitalisation due to allergic reactions (Kool et al, Adult food-induced anaphylaxis hospital presentations in New Zealand).

  • Their research data confirmed food-induced anaphylaxis is an increasing problem in New Zealand and showed significant differences in incidence of hospital presentation in different ethnic populations, specifically Asian, Māori and Pasifika.

With that fresh focus adopted, Allergy New Zealand is developing an operational plan to connect and actively collaborate with health leaders in those communities to deliver allergy education and support to address access, health equity and literacy issues.

Annual General Meeting

Please note that our next AGM will be hosted in our offices at 581 Mt Eden Road on Wednesday 22 September 2021 from 6pm. We will attempt to simulcast our meeting using Zoom. Details for joining us online will be sent out closer to the date of the meeting.

Please join us in person or virtually. RSVP by email to allergy@allergy.org.nz noting any special dietary requirements if you plan to attend in person.

In the meantime, the team here at Allergy New Zealand thank you for your continuing support and hopes that wherever you are reading this, that you are keeping warm and staying healthy.

Mark Dixon, CEO Allergy NZ

16 July 2021
Allergy Today