Health round-up: Safe drinking myth, bulk-billing and the genetics of depression

Richard Laycock 24 August 2017 NEWS

Happy young people with cocktails at pub.

A weekly round-up of Australia's latest healthcare news.

A drink a day doesn't keep the doctor away

While most of us tell ourselves that moderate drinking is okay it turns out that just one drink a day might be bad for our health, according to the ABC.

The ABC spoke with Professor Tanya Chikritzhs from Curtin University's National Drug Research Institute, who said that a couple of drinks every 10 days can increase the chances of a man developing cancer by 8% when compared with someone who doesn't drink.

This might not be surprising, as alcohol is a known carcinogen and has been linked to a range cancers including liver cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, mouth cancer and stomach cancer.

So, it looks like the "benefits" of having a glass and a half of wine per day may not be true.

Marge Simpson drinking wine

Caption: I know doctors say you should drink a glass and a half but I just can't drink that much. Source:

Bulk-billing boom

More Aussies than ever are visiting their doctor without having to go out-of-pocket. In the 2016-17 financial year, 85.7% of Australian patients bulk-billed their GP visits, up from 85.1% in the 2015-16 financial year. This is the highest level of bulk-billing since the inception of Medicare.

The June 2017 quarter also delivered record numbers, with bulk-billing rates up year-on-year by 0.5%, from 85.9% (June 2016) to 86.4% (June 2017).

June historically has high levels of bulk-billing doctors visits due to the flu season, and 2017's flu season has been particularly bad.

Do your genes affect your likelihood of developing depression?

In a world first study, Australian scientists are seeking 10,000 volunteers for the world’s largest genetics of depression study. The Australian Genetics of Depression Study aims to identify how our genes shape our susceptibility to depression.

“We urgently need another 10,000 volunteers to help us crack the genetic code of our nation’s third most burdensome disease,” said study co-investigator Professor Ian Hickie.

A recent study found that 39% of Australian adults are living with depression, and Australia has one of the highest rates of antidepressant prescription in all OECD countries. This study aims to better understand this debilitating condition with the aim to find treatment options.

“The link between genetics and clinical depression is very clear. Approximately 20,000 genes make up the human genome... Our groundbreaking research should allow us to identify between 50 to 100 genes that influence a person’s risk of developing clinical depression," said lead study investigator Professor Nick Martin.

What else is happening?

NSW Health is warning people to keep an eye out for symptoms of meningococcal, as cases are expected to rise. There have been 48 cases so far this year, up from 36 for the same period last year.

“Meningococcal disease is rare, affecting only 1 person per 100,000 in NSW, but it can be very severe, leading to life-long complications or death,” director of communicable diseases at NSW Health Dr Vicky Sheppeard said.

Each week our round-up offers a summary of the latest developments impacting Australian healthcare and most importantly, you, the consumer. Check in every Thursday to find out what's happening in health.

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