Life-saving allergy treatment delayed due to COVID-19

Helen Lewers was in her late 50s when she had her first bad reaction to an ant bite.

These ants are very aggressive and are said to be one of Australia’s most dangerous native ant species.

They have sent many people to the hospital and for some people they can be fatal.

For Helen, when she was younger and lived in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, a jumper bite (she’s suffered several over time) was a painful annoyance.

Later she moved to a bush block near Ballarat.

The jumping ants loved the place as much as she did. And then, after a sting left her with a deeply swollen hand, Helen discovered she was allergic to it.

“They climb trees, bushes, ladders and buildings and nowhere is really safe,” she said.

“They can crawl on me when I brush against a bush, for example. Or they could fall from a gum tree.

“When I get stung, I use an EpiPen, call an ambulance and usually need extra adrenaline in the ambulance or when I get to the emergency room at Ballarat Base Hospital.”

This happened “about” twice a summer.

The jumping ant can be deadly. Photo: Steve Shattuck

One day, while awaiting treatment, Helen suffered anaphylactic shock, an experience she described as “almost dreamlike”.

An even scarier experience occurred when, following another sting, Helen was put on hold by the ambulance service.

For the first time, she felt truly vulnerable.

Victoria opens a specialized clinic

By then the jumping ant, long a serious problem in Tasmania, where many people were hospitalized, had increasingly become a Victorian problem.

In 2016, Monash Health opened a specialty clinic to offer a jumping ant venom immunotherapy program that desensitizes people with a jumping ant allergy.

Hélène is on the waiting list.

“The treatment involves injecting small amounts, initially, of ant venom. Over time the doses are increased with the aim of boosting my immunity,” Helen said.

“If I could access treatment, I would free up an ambulance about twice a summer, free up space in the emergency department and allow staff to attend to other patients. It would also free up a room in the short-stay ward at my local hospital.

A few years passed and Helen finally went on a date about two years ago. Then the COVID-19 arrived and the appointment was postponed.

Since then, appointments have been proposed and canceled. Helen was due to start treatment earlier this month.

“Three days before my departure, the appointment was canceled because COVID-19 was now considered the main objective of the medical center.

Helen believes ant bites now pose a greater risk to her health than COVID-19.

“I’m double vaxxed and recently had the booster. Otherwise, I’m a fairly healthy person who doesn’t need medication,” she said.

“I understand why this treatment is not happening, for now. But I also understand that many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of patients must be similarly affected across the country.”

She said COVID-19 “has gotten out of control and hospitals need to deal with it as a matter of priority.”

A spokesperson for Monash Health has confirmed that it has temporarily suspended appointments for new patients in its Jack Jumper Ant immunotherapy service.

“The service continues to operate for existing patients,” they said. TBEN.

“We understand that these delays can be frustrating for our patients. We are working to ensure that rescheduled appointments can be rescheduled as soon as it is safe to do so.

More than 4,700 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday. Photo: AAP

Caregivers under pressure

Helen blames our politicians.

She believes the current situation is “due to the incompetence of the Federal Government which, in cahoots with the Premier of New South Wales, decided it was safe or politically expedient to let him tear himself apart, which is exactly what happened.”

This may be a woman’s reproach. But it will be interesting to see in a few months how the recriminations of many people waiting for long-awaited surgeries and treatments will affect the outcome of the federal election.

Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in Victoria climbed to 1114 on Sunday – having surpassed 1,000 for the first time in the pandemic on Saturday – as in New South Wales they climbed to 2650.

Melbourne-based emergency physician Dr Stephen Parnis said healthcare workers were exhausted and suffering ’emotional damage’ – where they felt stressed and overwhelmed by ‘not being able to provide the care they needed. needed”. they would wish for patients, or perceive to be the best care”.

Dr Parnis said trying to ease the strain on the healthcare system by suspending some elective procedures – as was done this month in the ACT, NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania – compels patients to often seek out high-risk surgeries on the trail.

“A good example would be, say, someone on a waiting list to have their gallbladder removed because of stones,” he said, noting that the word “elective” was misleading because it implied that all procedures were discretionary.

“That gallbladder gets infected or a stone goes down the bile duct and causes pancreatitis. And it ranges from something relatively routine to something life-threatening.

Dr Parnis added that the elusive ‘peak’ in hospitalizations still seemed a long way off – and staff were just focused on getting through each day.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said, referring to suggestions from Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly that the number of cases would peak within weeks.

In the meantime, for Helen, it’s all about hanging on to her EpiPen and hoping that the overwhelmed ambulance service will arrive in time.

If you have a story about COVID-19 that is delaying your treatment or surgery, contact the author at [email protected]

Additional reporting by James Ried

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