PHU - Disease Control programs and units

Introduction

The Public Health Unit – Disease Control provides clinical services, including screening and contact tracing, for sexual health, blood-borne viruses, tuberculosis, leprosy and other mycobacterial diseases in the Northern Territory (NT).

The Public Health Unit – Disease Control provides policy and clinical guideline development for these diseases and has offices in the five major urban centres of the NT.

The pages in this section contain information about these Disease Control programs and units:

Information for the general public on diseases, influenza, immunisation, needle and syringe programs and STIs can be found on the Northern Territory Government website's health and wellbeing pages.

Our role

The Public Health Unit – Disease Control has a core role monitoring disease outbreaks and running vital preventative health programs including:

  • the development and implementation of the Territory's immunisation program, which provides advice and education to health staff and the public on immunisation.
  • surveillance for more than 90 notifiable diseases and mounting the necessary public health responses, including the management of outbreaks
  • under the guidance of the community paediatrician, the Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) Program provides important support for the diagnosis and long term management of those with RHD
  • the Trachoma Program is working in partnership with a national program towards the elimination of trachoma
  • the Safety and Injury Unit researches and develops policy on injury prevention
  • Medical Entomology undertakes mosquito surveillance and environmental management of disease-carrying and other nuisance insects.

Contact

To contact the Public Health Unit – Disease Control or one of its programs and units go to Public Health Unit – Disease Control contacts.


Sexual health and blood borne viruses unit (SHBBVU)

The Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Unit (SHBBVU) aims to reduce the incidence and transmission of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and blood borne viruses (BBVs) in the Northern Territory (NT).

We work with affected communities, non-government organisations, clinical services, training organisations and researchers to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate our public health response to controlling these infections.

The SHBBVU supports the delivery of educational and clinical services to urban, rural and remote communities across the NT. The program is guided by the Sexual Health Advisory Group (SHAG), which provides high-level advice for strategic planning, priority setting, research direction and resource allocation.

To contact the unit go to CDC contacts.

Clinic 34

Clinic 34 specialises in sexual health services for the assessment and treatment of STIs and BBVs including HIV and hepatitis C.

In addition to providing direct clinical services Clinic 34 supports other urban services to provide STI and BBV services through advice, education and resources. Clinic 34 also distributes sterile injecting equipment and provides safe disposal facilities through the Northern Territory Needle and Syringe Program (NSP).

Clinics are located in Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Nhulunbuy. All services are free and confidential and clients do not need a Medicare card for most services.

For contact information and opening hours go to the Clinic 34 pages on the NT Government website.

Syphilis register

The Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Unit  maintains a Territory-wide syphilis register. Information on syphilis symptoms and other STIs can be found on the NT Government website.

Although diagnosis and treatment of STIs is relatively straightforward, this is not the case with syphilis. Information on current clinical findings and previous tests and history is required in order to determine correct treatment.

Syphilis register operators in Darwin and Alice Springs coordinate the collection, storage and distribution of information in relation to the diagnosis, treatment and follow up of syphilis and congenital syphilis.

Register operators can support clinicians in treatment and follow-up and assist in the surveillance and control of syphilis in the NT.

HBV, HCV and HIV community prescriber program

The SHBBVU is responsible for authorising doctors who work outside NT Health to be able to prescribe medication for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV under the Australian Government's 100 Highly Specialised Drugs Scheme.

The program is managed on behalf of the NT Government by the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM).

Doctors who are interested in training and becoming a prescriber should contact either ASHM or the SHBBV unit for more information.


Trachoma program

The aim of the Trachoma Program is to eliminate blinding trachoma from endemic communities.

The World Health Organisation recommends a multi-faceted intervention strategy known as SAFE (Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial (and hand) cleanliness and Environmental improvement) involving:

  • Surgery for trichiasis - eye lid surgery is carried out to prevent corneal opacity within the pupillary margin that results from entropion (in-turning) of the eye lashes to the extent they scratch and permanently damage the cornea
  • Antibiotics - active Chlamydia trachomatis infection is treated with antibiotics
  • Facial cleanliness - it is well demonstrated that children with clean faces have less trachoma infections. Health promotion programs are implemented to educate communities about trachoma, the importance of personal hygiene and practical advice on facial cleanliness
  • Environmental improvements - it is important to reduce overcrowding and improve water and sanitation facilities.

The Trachoma Program delivers the SAFE strategy through a network of organisations and services who undertake screening, community treatment, health promotion, training and community worker education in the NT.

To contact the program see CDC contacts.

Stakeholders

The Trachoma Program collaborates with the following health organisations and services.

Resources

Go to CDC resources and publications.


Tuberculosis and leprosy unit

Tuberculosis (TB) and leprosy are conditions of significant public health importance in the Northern Territory (NT). 

Although CDC focus has been on screening for TB in the local Indigenous population, a large part of our work is now screening those born overseas, including international students, newly arrived refugees and illegal foreign fishermen. 

CDC in Darwin coordinates the service responsible for the management of TB, leprosy and nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), under the direction of the Director of the CDC and head of the NT TB / leprosy units. Units are located in Katherine, Nhulunbuy (Gove), Tennant Creek and Alice Springs. 

Cases are identified by comprehensive free screenings of those most at risk and by health service referrals. These patients are then managed as per current protocol.

Go to CDC contacts to contact TB and leprosy unit.

What we do

The TB and leprosy unit performs the following roles.

  • manage and coordinate the NT's TB and leprosy policies including strategic planning, implementation and surveillance with the long-term aim of eliminating them in the NT
  • notification, enhanced surveillance and statistical analysis of local data
  • provide clinical services for active TB, latent TB infection (LTBI) and leprosy patients including advice about inpatient management, community screening and contact tracing
  • produce guidelines for the management and control of TB, leprosy and NTM in the NT
  • educate health professionals, the public and government agency staff about TB and leprosy standards, guidelines and training. 
  • represent the NT and national committees relating to TB, leprosy, refugee health and health screening of illegal foreign fishermen
  • liaise with Melaleuca Refugee Centre to ensure the provision of initial health assessments for newly arrived refugees
  • participate in research to improve regional TB and leprosy control and management. This has included strengthening TB control in East Timor.

Key partners

The unit works closely with these professionals and organisations:

  • community nurses and health workers
  • hospital health professionals
  • Melaleuca Refugee Centre and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC)
  • NT schools and Charles Darwin University
  • Australian Customs Service, Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, GSL (Australia) Pty Ltd and other personnel involved in the apprehension and detention of illegal foreign fishermen
  • Darwin and Alice Springs Correctional Centres.

Resources

Go to CDC resources and publications for TB and leprosy guidelines and information.


Medical entomology

The CDC Medical Entomology Unit sits within the Public Health Unit.

What we do

The unit provides advice and carries out surveillance, monitoring, and control of insects of medical importance that affect human health.

It primarily performs a public health function with the aim of reducing the impact of insects of medical importance on the health and wellbeing of people in the Northern Territory. Mosquitoes and biting midges are the primary focus.

The Medical Entomology Unit works with the following objectives:

  • to keep the NT free of malaria, dengue and other exotic mosquito borne diseases
  • monitor and reduce endemic mosquito borne disease in the NT
  • monitor and reduce endemic mosquito pest numbers in NT urban centres
  • maintain integrated mosquito control programs at major centres throughout the Territory
  • provide planning and development advice and guidelines to the Departments of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment and others to prevent new biting insect problems
  • carry out cooperative and applied research on insects of medical importance to enable better control or reduce the impact of problem species
  • promote public awareness and provide an advisory service on insects of medical importance to various government authorities, private enterprise and the public.

Publications

A large range of publications produced by the Medical Entomology Unit is available in ePublications, and on the CDC resource page under ‘ME’ including:

  • development guidelines
  • annual reports
  • scientific reports and publications.

Mosquito calendars

Go to insects of medical importance for calendars and information on:

  • biting midges
  • saltmarsh mosquitoes.

Websites

For general information see these online resources:


Rheumatic heart disease program

The Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) program aims to reduce the burden of RHD in the Northern Territory (NT) and prevent acute rheumatic fever. The RHD team meets this challenge by working closely with patients and their families through education, training, support of community members and health staff.

Contact the RHD team through the CDC contacts.

Resources


Safety and injury unit

Injury causes substantial death, disability and costs to the health care system in the Northern Territory (NT) and accounts for in excess of $20 million per year in acute care costs alone.

The breadth of issues it covers is vast: road safety, water safety, occupational health, assault, domestic violence, suicide, and medical misadventure to name a few.

Injury is the third leading cause of death overall in the NT and the second leading cause for Indigenous people, as well as:

  • the leading cause of death for people aged 1 to 44
  • the leading cause of years of potential life lost
  • the leading cause of Disability Adjusted Life Years lost for males and fourth leading cause for females.

Contact the Safety and Injury Unit through CDC contacts.

What we do

The Safety and Injury Unit plays a crucial role in multi-sector partnerships by providing public health, research and evaluation expertise as well as access to and analysis of injury data. 

More than almost any other public health issue, addressing injury prevention requires a high degree of coordination and collaboration between many different sectors. It is not something, which any one agency can effectively deal with in isolation.

An important shift has been to move away from accident prevention to a more proactive approach in safety promotion and to address people's perceptions of safety.

Over the past years the unit has been involved in:

  • membership of the National Injury Prevention Working Group
  • membership of the Northern Territory Road Safety Task force
  • membership of the NT Water Safety Advisory Council
  • development of a Safe Community project in Palmerston.

The current resourcing of the CDC Safety and Injury unit consists of a specialist in public health medicine and an injury prevention coordinator both based in Darwin.

Related information

Go to the NT Government website for general information on:

Publications

Go to CDC resources and publications for safety and injury and falls prevention resources.


Notifiable diseases

Medical staff and laboratories must notify the CDC when diagnosing or seriously suspecting a disease listed on the Northern Territory (NT) schedule of notifiable diseases.

The schedule is declared by the Health Minister and published in the government gazette. The NT Notifiable Diseases Committee reports to the Chief Health Officer and meets at least annually to decide how to advise the Minister.

Get a downloadable schedule of notifiable conditions to be reported in the NT.

When to notify

CDC would prefer to know about a notifiable disease when the diagnosis is seriously considered, rather than wait for final confirmation.

An unconfirmed case does not automatically mean public health action will be taken, but it can help prepare us. CDC can also give you information to help you make your diagnosis, for example if there are other measles cases in the community.

Please acquaint yourself with the list of notifiable conditions. Many are rare diseases (such as botulism and plague) and others are becoming increasingly rare as a result of immunisation and other public health activities (such as measles and Haemophilus influenzae type B infection).

Urgent

There are two groups of diseases which are particularly important to notify:

  • those designated urgent (marked with a phone symbol on the schedule), such as:
    • COVID-19
    • post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis
    • dengue if thought to be acquired in the NT
    • enteric disease in an institution or food-handler
    • outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease
    • measles
    • pertussis
    • malaria
    • tuberculosis.
  • those which involve a clinical diagnosis and might not be notifiable by the laboratory, such as:
    • acute rheumatic fever
    • post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis
    • adverse vaccine reaction
    • AIDS
    • Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease
    • enteric disease in an institution or food-handler
    • outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease
    • congenital syphilis
    • haemolytic uraemic syndrome.

Do not hesitate to contact you local CDC if you need further assistance.

Ebola virus disease (EVD) information

Australia has a robust border protection system and public health authorities are closely monitoring people who may have been exposed to the disease overseas. Infection control procedures in Australian hospitals are first rate.

  • information and regular EVD updates are available from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US CDC
  • both at a national level and in the NT procedures are in place to manage suspected or confirmed cases and their contacts - visit the Australian Department of Health EVD website for more information
  • further information for travellers is available at Smartraveller website.

How to notify

Phone the CDC about any notifiable diseases marked as urgent.

For non-urgent notifiable diseases, submit a notification form and post or fax to the Centre for Disease Control: