THE Hunter is home to the highest incidence of type1 diabetes in NSW, making it a hotspot for the fastest growing chronic disease in Australian children.
The potentially life-threatening condition presents acute challenges for those diagnosed, their families and the regional health serice, experts say.
But thanks to an innovative program developed here, the Hunter is achieving the best diabetic control in young people in Australia.
The program, known as SPIN, involves toddlers wearing an insulin pump, similar to a mobile phone in size, so that insulin can be delivered quickly and regularly.
‘We believe that if you can get good control [in] children that they will carry that through to adult life,’’ said Associate Professor Patricia Crock, head of paediatric endocrinology and diabetes at John Hunter Children’s Hospital.
‘‘[When] the children are self-sufficient ... they get past adolescence and as young adults they can then lead a healthy, productive life.’’
Dr Crock said the wave of type1 diabetes was continuing to grow.
‘‘We have the highest incidence of type1 diabetes in NSW, 28 new cases per 100,000 people per year, and one of the highest in Australia, with just one other city south of Perth with similar characteristics, and it’s increasing,’’ she said.
‘‘Last year we had 54 new cases and this year we have had 60 to date.’’
The challenges were highlighted in an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released on Thursday that revealed there were 15,500 diabetes-related hospitalisations among young people in 2009–10.
‘‘The facts are that there’s an increasing number and we are at the top end of the curve,’’ Dr Crock said
‘‘Twenty years ago when I started there were 90 children with diabetes and now we have got nearly 400,’’ she said.
Additionally, the hospitalisation rate for diabetes in the Hunter New England local health district has soared from 136 per 100,000 people in 1990-91 to 418 per 100,000 people in 2009-10.
Without good control of diabetes, families could face catastrophic results, she said.
‘‘Heart attacks at 24, blind by 30, or on renal dialysis, which costs $100,000 per year,’’ Dr Crock said.
Type 1 diabetes usually affects children and young people and is not lifestyle-related, while type 2 diabetes is associated with high blood pressure and obesity.
Harry just pumping on program
WHEN little Harry Walters was just two years old, a friend of the family was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Listening to his friend talk about the signs and symptoms, Harry’s father Tim Walters was taking mental notes, so when Harry had similar symptoms he recognised them straight away.
They took him to the local chemist to get a reading of his blood glucose level. It was 22, compared to a normal reading of between four and eight, and he was straight to his family doctor, and from there to emergency.
‘‘That’s when we first became familiar with John Hunter Children’s Hospital,’’ Mr Walters said.
‘‘No one on either side of the family had diabetes so it was a real shock, very daunting.’’
After the diagnosis came intensive education and a lifestyle change for the family.
Harry was having four insulin injections a day for the first three months. He then joined the innovative SPIN program and went on an insulin pump with help from experts at John Hunter Children’s Hospital.
The pump, attached to Harry at all times, allows him more flexibility around what food he eats and when, and more stable control of his diabetes, Mr Walters said.
Harry, a ‘‘happy-go-lucky kid’’ who just turned four, is attending pre-school and looking forward to Christmas.
‘‘It doesn’t seem to bother him,’’ Mr Walters said.