Seven residents dead after flu outbreak at Victorian aged care home

The elderly residents, aged between 70 to 94, died at St John’s Retirement Village in Wangaratta, in the state’s north-east.

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Over the past few weeks, 123 people caught the flu during the deadly outbreak.

Victorian chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton said there was one person still battling the illness and another death looked like it could be possible.

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“We are at the peak of one of the worst flu seasons ever and the elderly are one of highest-risk groups,” he said on Friday.

“Sadly, for the frail – and people with underlying health conditions – the flu can be very serious. About 800 people in Victoria die each year from influenza – the most of any communicable disease.”

St John’s Retirement Village is home to 146 residents who are looked after by 200 staff.

In Victoria, flu outbreaks are at very high levels – particularly in aged care homes.

Victoria’s Depertment of Health has recorded 208 cases this year, which is double the amount seen last year in the same period.

So far this year, more than 11,300 people have been infected by influenza in Victoria alone.

To lessen the risk of catching the highly contagious virus which can spread through fluids in coughs and sneezes, Dr Suttom urges people to keep their hands clean by thorougly washing their hands with soap before visiting their friends or family in aged care or hospital.

NSW has also had the worst month for the flu since records began with more than 39,000 cases detected in August – more than double the previous record.

Data collected by NSW Health shows there have been 39,082 cases of the flu during August.

This surpasses the previous record set in July this year when there were 16,761 cases.

In general, August is the worst month for the flu with 13,602 cases in the same month last year and 12,901 cases the year before that.

‘Watershed’ in cancer therapy raises hope

Australian cancer researchers have been buoyed by the approval in the US of a “revolutionary” cancer therapy that works by genetically altering a patients’ cells to fight the disease.

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week approved the drug CTL019 developed by Novartis Pharmaceutical, the first gene therapy to hit the US market.

Peter Orchard, CEO of CanTeen – the national support organisation for young people living with cancer – has hailed the decision a “watershed” for cancer treatment.

“It’s part of a new way of cancer treatments that could genuinely start to impact survival rates in some of those nastier cancers that have really been difficult to deal with,” Mr Orchard told AAP on Friday.

Dr Emily Blyth – a haematologist and bone marrow transplant physician at Westmead Hospital – says an important step has been taken towards making this lifesaving therapy available in Australia.

Although that is still “heartbreakingly” a long way off.

“It’s getting access for Australian patients that now becomes the challenge,” Dr Blyth said.

The treatment involves collecting t-cells, a type of immune cell, from the patient that are then genetically engineered to produce special receptors designed to recognise and kill the cancer cells.

Haematologist and cancer researcher Dr Kenneth Micklethwaite at the Westmead Institute – who is leading a trial of a very similar therapy in Australia with Dr Blyth – says the therapy works by harnessing the power of the immune system to fight the disease.

He said the results of international clinical trials have been “remarkable”.

“They’ve seen patients who have very active leukaemia that’s completely resistant to all other therapies, nothing else has worked, and they’ve given them these cells and their leukaemia has responded very promptly and just melted away,” Dr Micklethwaite said.

The potent personalised treatment, however, is not cheap.

Novartis set the price for its one-time infusion of so-called “CAR-T cells” at $475,000.

Mr Orchard says for an Australian hoping to access this treatment overseas could cost them upwards of $1 million.

For this reason, efforts by CanTeen are now under way to bring this sort of cutting-edge treatment to Australia in the hope of improving survival rates among the 1,000 young people diagnosed with cancer every year in the country.

Last month, CanTeen put out a call for expression of interest to researchers after receiving $5 million in funding from the federal government to conduct clinical trials for sarcoma, leukaemia and brain tumours.

“We would love to see it tried more widely here in Australia, it’s a new frontier of treatments for cancer that we just really need to explore now and use to give people hope where there has been no hope,” Mr Orchard said.

Dr Blyth has called on the nation’s doctors to advocate for their patients “because that’s how we get them access to the world’s best treatments.”

“Who wants to tell a patient ‘look this is a available for someone who lives in the US it’s not available for you’, it’s just too heartbreaking,” said Dr Blyth.

Redistribution of parliament’s seats could threaten Government

The Australian Electoral Commission has announced South Australia will lose one seat, while Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory will gain one each.

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That could pose a threat to a federal cabinet minister and even the whole Coalition Government.

The nation’s political representation is set for a shake-up, with seats across several states and territories soon to change to better represent the country’s population shifts.

The Australian Electoral Commission, which determines the number of seats, has decided Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory will each gain one seat.

South Australia, however, will lose a federal MP, bringing the total number of lower-house electorates to 151.

Electoral commissioner Tom Rogers says the public will have a chance to make suggestions first and raise any concerns they may have.

The Greens, currently in a power-sharing agreement with Labor in the ACT, are already looking at how the move could benefit them long-term.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale says reviews of the electorates are a regular and necessary occurrence.

“As the population grows, we need to continue to look at boundaries and redefine those. What we want to see is a redistribution that gives people that level of representation. And, as far as the Greens are concerned, we’ll be putting our best foot forward to try and ensure that people have an opportunity to see a Greens member of the lower house in the ACT elected.”

A redistribution of electoral boundaries is already underway in Queensland and Tasmania, but no change to the number of those seats is happening.

The new Victorian seat is expected to be in Melbourne’s north-west and would most likely go to Labor.

It is unclear who would win the newly created ACT seat, with the Liberals making strong gains in elections in recent years.

Victorian Labor MP Catherine King has told the ABC the changes could make for an interesting election.

“These boundary changes, they do change seats and change voting patterns, I guess, so I don’t know. At the end of the day, it’s really in the Australian Electoral Commission’s hands, and you go out there and try and convince people on the basis of your policies to vote for you.”

The redistribution is potentially bad news for the Turnbull Government, already holding onto power with just a one-seat majority.

There is speculation the Prime Minister might call an election in late 2018 before the changes are finalised.

There is likely to be months of lobbying and submissions, including from political parties themselves, before the final boundaries are settled.

The Liberal-held seats of Grey and Barker in South Australia are expected to merge to form an area covering 98 per cent of the state’s landmass.

The move could also affect Defence Industries Minister Christopher Pyne, who holds the seat of Sturt in Adelaide’s outer eastern suburbs.

He could face more Labor voters, but he has told the Nine Network he is not worried about his position.

“I’ve been through three redistributions that I can remember. There’s no more, or greater, reason, or less reason, why my seat would be abolished. Eventually, there will be a 12-month process. I’ll be living in the seat somewhere in the eastern suburbs of Adelaide. I’ll be standing for that seat. That’s where my party membership is. That’s where my electors are. I will definitely have a seat. The reality is, what it will end up looking like is a matter for the Electoral Commission.”

South Australian Nick Xenophon Team MP Rebekha Sharkie has expressed disappointment at the reshuffle, though.

She says it is a sign of her state’s diminishing national presence.

 

‘No skin’ left on Brisbane burns victim

A man fighting for his life after being set alight while asleep at his Brisbane home has been burnt so severely there isn’t “a bit of skin left on him,” relatives say.

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A cousin of Victor Graveson, 65, has described the horrific injuries suffered when he was doused in an accelerant and set alight at a Teesdale Road home at Alexandra Hills on Friday morning.

He ran from his home covered in flames before relatives came to his aid and put out the fire.

Mr Graveson, who is retired, is in a critical condition at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital with head-to-toe burns.

Relatives say they saw another man running from the property about 9am, about the same time they saw smoke coming from the home.

“I was sitting here and one bloke ran up the road, took off at a 100 mile,” Mr Graveson’s cousin told AAP.

“About 15 minutes or maybe 10 minutes later we could see the smoke coming from down at the house and by the time we got up there it was pretty well alight.

“Victor was lying inside my brother’s verandah all burnt, right through. There wasn’t a bit of skin left on him.”

A 34-year-old man has been treated for minor burns to his arms after taking himself to Redland Hospital. He is being interviewed by police, who are treating him as a person of interest.

Police tape surrounds the four-hectare property which has been declared a crime scene.

The property, which is made up of a number of makeshift dwellings and homes belonging to the victim’s relatives, is littered with cars, boats and farming machinery.

Authorities were seen inspecting the boot of a car on the scene that was open and with a number of plastic fuel tanks inside.

A history of SA’s troubled new hospital

Adelaide’s new $2.

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4 billion hospital will open next week after years of political infighting, cost blowouts, fatal accidents and a naming controversy.

In June 2007 then premier Mike Rann announced the government would build a hospital on the old railway site in Adelaide’s western CBD.

Known as the Marjorie Jackson-Nelson Hospital and costing $1.7 billion, it would replace the existing and historic Royal Adelaide Hospital and be finished by 2016, the premier said.

But if he thought the project would be universally embraced, and the cost unchanged, he was in for a shock, with even the name posing a major headache for the government.

Chosen to honour the former Olympic gold medallist and popular state governor, the plan was quickly drawn into controversy before a brick was laid.

Influential medical figures argued that scrapping the “Royal” moniker would mean losing the international recognition the hospital had.

Others were outraged that the government would consider a change, arguing the “Marj” would simply not do.

“Some of the attacks have been deeply personal, aimed at Marjorie and her contribution, rather than simply at our choice of her name for the new hospital.” Mr Rann told parliament in 2009 after eventually succumbing to public pressure to retain the existing name.

Nevertheless, the criticism continued.

The opposition questioned the need for the project altogether, arguing redeveloping the existing RAH would be more cost effective.

The railway yard site would be a better location for a sports stadium, they said.

There was significant backlash within the medical community with the Save the RAH lobby group also calling for the project to be scrapped and money invested into the existing hospital.

Labor stuck to its guns and after winning the 2010 election started work on clearing the site.

But new Premier Jay Weatherill soon faced more concerns as contaminated soil caused the first of many delays.

Worse was to come with the on-site death of construction worker Jorge Castillo-Riffo who was crushed while operating a scissor lift in 2014.

The government also faced pressure from the Australian Medical Association who repeatedly questioned the size and suitability of the hospital’s facilities.

In 2016, Steve Wyatt became the second worker to die on the site and the premier promised an inquest after workers rallied on the steps of parliament.

By then the hospital had already missed its first scheduled completion date and was set to miss a second.

That was, in part, related to a string of alleged faults, including dodgy air-conditioning, incorrect loading dock sizes, and smaller than expected rooms.

Those issues landed the government and the developers in court before a settlement was reached.

But through all the trials and tribulations the government held firm on its belief that the new Royal Adelaide would prove to be the best hospital in the Australia, among the best in the world and would usher in a new era of medical care.

When it opens on Tuesday, the public – its patients – will finally get to judge that for themselves.

Hajj: The Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha explained

The festival, also known as the feast of the sacrifice, marks the third day of the Hajj.

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The Hajj is an annual journey to Mecca, a desert valley in western Saudi Arabia, that all able-bodied and financially capable Muslim adults are expected to make at least once in their lifetime.

Eid al-Adha will be celebrated on September 1, 2017, and is the day after the Day of Arafat.

Muslims praying in Lakemba during the festival of Eid al-AdhaSBS

Muslim worshippers pray during the Hajj pilgrimage outside Namrah Mosque in Arafat, near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 31 August 2017. One day prior to Eid al-Adha.AAP

What does it commemorate?

Eid al-Adha marks the holy ritual when the Prophet Abraham was going to sacrifice his son to God.

In Islam, the Prophet Abraham was tempted by Satan to abandon his sacrifice, but showed the willingness to carry through the act and cast the devil away with stones.

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However, upon preparing the sacrifice Allah replaced his son with a ram.

Celebrated through prayer and sacrifice

On the morning of the public holiday, Muslims often dress up in new clothes and attend prayer at local mosques.

Community prayer is also often held in open spaces such as public parks.

Muslims often share food and gifts when meeting up with friends and family.

An Iraqi sheep vendor displays sheep for sale ahead of the Eid-al-Adha festival at a livestock market in Baghdad, Iraq, on 31 August 2017.AAP

Pilgrims at the Hajj travel back to Mina and throw the stone pebbles at pillars. The act resembes casting away the temptations of the devil.

Then after meeting with family and friends, Muslims often slaughter a sheep, goat, cow or camel – to complete the re-enactment of when Abraham went to sacrifice his son, only to find God had placed a ram there to be slaughtered instead.

Muslims give a third of the meat to the poor, a third to friends and leave the final third for the household as a gesture of parting with something precious.

How long does it last?

In some countries with large Muslim populations the festival is a national hoilday and can run for three days, but can also go for longer depending on the nation.

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Drug runner chasing ‘easy money’: court

A would-be Melbourne paramedic turned to drug running to make some easy money to keep up with his peers.

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Michael Ung, 24, is now facing a maximum term of life in jail and his girlfriend Beatrice Chang – who was in the car with him when police uncovered the stash – is pleading to be spared conviction.

Ung was trafficking four kilograms of methylamphetamine, or ice, from Sydney to Melbourne when stopped on the Hume Highway as part of a pre-planned intercept on January 24, the County Court was told on Friday.

He made $6000 from the trip and up to $25,000 in total for his drug running journeys, spending the money on a car and entertaining Chang, Prosecutor Kathryn Hamill said.

The court was told Chang knew Ung was involved in trafficking because they had discussed what they’d do with the money.

Ung pleaded guilty to trafficking a large commercial quantity of a drug of dependence while Chang, 24, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of trafficking a drug of dependence.

Defence barrister Trevor Wallwork said Ung became involved as a drug courier for “easy money” because he lacked hope for the future and felt he was falling behind his peers.

The former paramedic student suffered lupus, a chronic illness, which at times left him bedridden and he had gambled away his savings.

Ung told police he had “screwed up a lot” and told them not to blame his girlfriend.

“It’s not hers, please don’t do anything to her,” he told investigators.

“It was my choice in the end.”

Mr Wallwork said his client was grappling with the impact of his actions on his relationship and his family.

It prompted Judge John Carmody to respond: “I’ll see the impact of the methylamphetamine in the community for the rest of my time as a judge.”

Chang’s defence urged she be spared conviction due to her minor involvement.

John Dickinson QC said Ung had put the love of his life in a “big bind”.

“He’s put her in an awful position, and put himself in an awful position too,” Mr Dickinson said.

Chang has already served 43 days in pre-sentence custody and Mr Dickinson urged that the masters graduate be spared a conviction.

“You can’t really expect a naive, student-aged, gullible, inexperienced young woman to walk away in that situation,” he said.

The pair will be sentenced at a later date.

Research gives mesothelioma sufferers hope

There may be light at the end of the tunnel for mesothelioma sufferers.

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The rare cancer, which results from exposure to asbestos, kills most patients but a team of Sydney oncology experts has found injecting sufferers with missing genetic information can reverse tumour growth.

“This has created considerable excitement in the scientific world,” the study’s principal investigator, Professor Nico van Zandwijk, said on Friday.

Researchers first identified that mesothelioma sufferers’ cancerous cells were missing important nucleotides, called microRNA.

This genetic information, present in all normal cells, not only controls cell function but prevents cancer growth.

Armed with this knowledge, the team began injecting patients’ deficient cells with microRNA.

After four years of trials they discovered replacing the missing microRNA nucleotides stopped cancer growth and could reduce tumour size.

“This is a magnificent finding,” Prof van Zandwijk from Sydney University’s Concord Clinical School told AAP.

But there’s a lot more work to be done before the treatment could be used to fight mesothelioma in the real world.

Prof van Zandwijk says more clinical trials are required over at least six years before the treatment could be registered.

Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world due to mining and the widespread use of asbestos in building materials up until the 1980s.

The cancer, which originates in the tissues lining the lung, is resistant to almost all forms of therapy.

Only 40 per cent of patients respond to standard chemotherapy which adds just months to their lives.

The results of the trial have been published in the latest issue of Lancet Oncology.

Roos quick to move on after Dusty fend-off

Unlike most of Dustin Martin’s on-field opponents, North Melbourne are adamant they won’t be stopped in their tracks by the superstar’s contract fend-off.

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The Kangaroos went hard in their bid to lure the powerful midfielder with a mammoth seven-year deal reportedly worth about $11 million.

North coach Brad Scott and members of the club’s leadership group even met with Martin as part of their audacious bid to sign him.

Their season-long serenade ended in heartbreak on Thursday night when Martin stuck with the Tigers on a seven-year deal worth about $2 million less.

But the Roos aren’t crying over what might have been.

“(Fans) should know that we are leaving no stone unturned to aggressively improve our list,” North football boss Cameron Joyce said.

“We want to add elite talent … and we will look at Plan B and C, if we need to get to that.

“We are very prepared. We are not going to just go and try and get any player … we targeted the elite to add to our group and we will continue to do that if we can this year, otherwise it might be next year.”

Greater Western Sydney star Josh Kelly has also been strongly linked with a move to Arden St with the lure of an even longer contract than the one offered to Martin.

With Dusty now a Tiger for life it follows that some of the money they had earmarked for him can be used to make their offer to Kelly even more difficult to resist.

Kelly is understood to be leaning towards staying with the Giants, but continued to play his cards close to his chest when he received his first All-Australian nod on Wednesday.

“(There’s) no timeline but I’m not even considering it at the moment,” he said of his contract status.

“I’m fully focused on the finals and excited by that.”

Despite Martin’s decision to stay at Punt Road, Joyce is adamant Arden St remains a desirable address for potential high-profile recruits.

“We went right down to the wire on this one,” Joyce told the Herald Sun.

“We are talking about a potential Brownlow medallist, a multiple All-Australian, best-and-fairest winner and a superstar of the competition who was seriously considering coming to North Melbourne.

“That is the huge positive in this.”

Rival netball coaches see eye-to-eye

The long-standing netball rivalry between Australia and New Zealand hasn’t stopped coaches Lisa Alexander and Janine Southby seeing eye-to-eye on one key issue.

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Going into Sunday’s quad series finale in Invercargill, both are demanding a more ruthless approach from their teams.

On the surface, the Diamonds are in better shape than the Silver Ferns in the four-nation tournament.

They have recorded two wins from two starts, edging a fast-finishing England 54-50 first up before downing South Africa 58-52 in Canberra on Wednesday.

In contrast, Southby’s Silver Ferns are coming off an upset 49-45 defeat to England two days ago in Auckland, just the fifth time they’ve lost in 88 Tests against the Roses.

The Kiwis were also unconvincing in accounting for South Africa 63-56 last Saturday in Brisbane.

Both Alexander and Southby know exactly where they want to see improvement when the two arch-rivals clash at Stadium Southland.

They talk about consistency across four quarters, with both teams having faded in and out of their games against South Africa and England.

Alexander wants the Diamonds to replicate the strong start they delivered against South Africa, but she also wants to see them extend their lead with every quarter.

“We got off to a good start, then we let it go and that’s what was so disappointing,” she told NZ Newswire on Friday.

“We were 7-3 at one stage, and should have pushed on. We really need to work on that – we need to make sure we put the foot down and keep going.”

The Silver Ferns also struggled to maintain pressure against England, culminating in a chaotic final quarter where they were outscored 7-1 in the final five minutes.

Southby says that inconsistency proved costly throughout the whole game.

“We’d be up by five or six goals, then we’d go back to being one or two up – that seemed to be the pattern of the game,” she told NZ Newswire.

“A learning for this group is that when you get the chance, you’ve got to put the foot down, because other teams will just keep pushing back.”