If in doubt, see your GP

Dr Trish Batchelor, Deputy Chief Health Officer, Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Dr Trish Batchelor
Deputy Chief Health Officer
Department of Veterans’ Affairs

The veteran community is about mates supporting mates, and while I wouldn’t expect that you would necessarily think of your GP as your ‘mate’, I do hope you see them as a trusted guide to your health and our health system.

I have been a practising GP for more than 30 years and am constantly humbled by the trust people place in me, and am grateful for the bonds I form with my patients.

We recognise how central GPs are to the healthcare of veterans and their families, so we’re improving how DVA interacts with GPs. As a first step, we have developed a dedicated general practitioner information page on the DVA website to help busy GPs find everything on one page. We are also working closely with GPs to improve their knowledge of veteran health issues and DVA services, through Primary Health Networks.

Nurses, doctors and pharmacists consistently top Australian and international polls on the most trusted of professions. I hope if you have been feeling any nervousness about getting vaccinated against COVID that you have been able to discuss this with your GP. Similarly, if you have seen something about possible cures or preventive strategies in relation to COVID, I would urge you to discuss these with your GP. Many of them don’t work and may even be dangerous.

While vaccination remains your best protection against COVID, the development of safe and effective treatments is another element that will help us manage this pandemic.

Recently there have been some exciting developments in potential treatments for COVID. You may have read about one of these, Molnupiravir, which is currently being evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This is a new antiviral medication that, unlike other current treatments, comes as a pill taken for five days like a course of antibiotics. A recent study in people with at least one risk factor for poor outcomes from COVID showed that if the pill was started within five days of symptom onset, there was a 50% reduction in hospitalisation and / or death in those people treated. If this pill gets registered in Australia, it is highly likely it will be available via GPs. There are currently three treatments for COVID-19 provisionally registered by the TGA, however they need to be given by injection.

There are some medications that continue to be promoted in the public domain but that should only be used in clinical trials. The most publicised of these is probably the anti-parasite drug Ivermectin. Its recent misuse has resulted in the TGA placing restrictions on prescribing it to ensure it is only used for those infections for which it is proven safe and effective, such as Strongyloides or scabies. While Ivermectin did show an effect on the Coronavirus in the laboratory, this has not been supported in human trials. Importantly, the dose required to mimic the laboratory- based trials is significantly higher than we usually use and there have been hospital admissions resulting from people overdosing on the medication.

Other medications that should only be used in the context of a clinical trial include the anti-malarial Chloroquine, the anti-parasite drug Nitazoxanide, and the combination of Ivermectin and the antibiotic Doxycycline. It is very important that you do not to take these drugs to treat COVID. Medications that should also not be used to treat COVID include aspirin, the antibiotic Azithromycin and the anti-gout drug colchicine.

The NSW Poisons Hotline has recently raised concern about the increasing number of calls regarding home remedies that supposedly prevent or cure COVID, many of which can be dangerous. These include inhaling hydrogen peroxide, gargling or swallowing antiseptics, bathing in bleach, spraying face masks with disinfectants and taking high-dose vitamins.

The best way to protect yourself against COVID remains vaccination and following the other public health recommendations. Please speak with your GP if you have any concerns. If you prefer to research yourself there are many great evidence- based resources available including:

  • The Australian Academy of Science The Science of Immunisation bookletscience.org.au
  • The National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance — ncirs.org.au
  • The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre — mvec.mcri.edu.au

Until next time, stay well.