Spreading the word on disease

LGH infectious diseases specialist Katie Flanagan is used to dealing with "the weird and wonderful". Picture: PHILLIP BIGGS

LGH infectious diseases specialist Katie Flanagan is used to dealing with "the weird and wonderful". Picture: PHILLIP BIGGS

AS THE infectious diseases specialist at the Launceston General Hospital, Katie Flanagan is used to dealing with "the weird and wonderful".

She has treated a man suffering a vision impairment caused by feral cats, another who caught a parasite in Thailand causing "big swellings" that moved around his eyes and head, and various imported illnesses including malaria.

It's all familiar territory for the English-born Dr Flanagan, who studied malaria vaccination as part of her PhD at Oxford University, and spent more than six years researching broader vaccination effects in the Gambia, West Africa.

But the rare and strange only forms part of her work.

Dr Flanagan provides an infectious disease consult service for the hospital, helps treat difficult cases of "standard" infectious diseases, runs a weekly outpatient infectious diseases clinic and a HIV clinic, teaches at the University of Tasmania, offers advice to Northern GPs, and monitors the use of antimicrobials - or antibiotics - at the LGH daily.

"In most hospitals, only about half of the antimicrobials that have been prescribed at any one time are actually appropriate," Dr Flanagan said.

"If you're on the wrong ones for the wrong length of time, you can get increased antimicrobials resistance.

"We have got this rise throughout the world in multi- resistant organisms, and we're facing a future where we might have infections that we can no longer treat."

Dr Flanagan is also responsible for outbreak management, and said a gastroenteritis outbreak at the LGH in April was her most challenging yet.

"Having to close two wards was a difficult decision and there really were day-to-day crisis meetings to try to decide what to do and how to manage it," she said.

Dr Flanagan said she was looking to move from Africa to Australia, when the Launceston job caught her eye in 2011.

She still supervises PhD students in West Africa, Copenhagen and Sydney, and continues her vaccination research through Monash University, but said she was content with life in Tasmania.

"My family's happy here, my daughter loves Launceston as well and I really like the hospital," Dr Flanagan said.

"There's a really good camaraderie between the staff, and we work really well together."

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