Goitre was first reported and recognised in Tasmania in the third decade of European settlement.
Despite no goitre or thyroid-related problems known in Tasmania's Aboriginal population, convict body or native animals, this geographical disease was prevalent in free settlers from the early 19th century to the present day.
During the past 200 years there have been major mistakes made in the management of this disease and it is only in the past 20 years that any semblance of prophylactic control has been adequately achieved.
Goitre surveys in the early 20th century recognised the prevalence of goitre in school children, the greater majority in young girls.
For many years it was ignored, surgical removal was dangerous and it was accepted that women with large necks and pendula goitre were the norm.
Goitre tablets (Potassium Iodide) were introduced in May 1949 and for 17 years were administered to school children once a week, but the distribution of the tablets was not entirely effective.
However, in 1966 an epidemic of thyrotoxicosis (Jod-Basedow) caused by an excess of iodine in the Tasmanian diet was of some concern.
This was a consequence of iodine being added to bread, iodophors introduced to the dairy industry as a sanitiser to cleanse milking machinery lines, vats and cows' teats.
Tasmania has a long history of mild iodine deficiency. Although the general Tasmanian population in 2021 is considered to be iodine sufficient, pregnant and breastfeeding women in Tasmania are still at risk of iodine deficiency.
This is due in part to the increased demands for iodine that pregnancy and breastfeeding impose on the mother.
They require supplementation managed by their GP or specialist physician.
Managing the fluctuations of iodine in the diet is a delicate process as too much and too little cause a management nightmare.
Today we are fortunate to have the mandatory fortification of iodised salt in bread backed up by a known use of iodophors in the dairy industry.
However, it is always a delicate balance and population testing is undertaken on a regular basis to measure iodine levels in urine which has become the gold standard. This then allows for adjustment of iodine levels in Tasmania's diet.
An exciting new addition of iodine to the Tasmanian diet may be possible through an innovative climate change initiative in reducing greenhouse gases by feeding Asparagopsis, a red seaweed, to dairy herds.
The feed is high in iodine and will be reflected in the milk produced, adding that needed extra iodine to our diet.
On November 20, 2021 Launceston will be hosting an Iodine Seminar. Leading researchers from Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Tasmania will speak on the history of the disease, research and management.
If you have an interest in medical history and the story of iodine deficiency in Tasmania, you can register online: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/iodine-symposium-tickets-157426901099