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Hematology - Infectious Diseases - Pediatrics and Child Health - Public Health and Epidemiology

Post-Arrival Health Screening in Karen Refugees in Australia
Published: Thursday, May 31, 2012
Author: Georgia A. Paxton et al.

by Georgia A. Paxton, Katrina J. Sangster, Ellen L. Maxwell, Catherine R. J. McBride, Ross H. Drewe


To document the prevalence of nutritional deficiencies, infectious diseases and susceptibility to vaccine preventable diseases in Karen refugees in Australia.


Retrospective audit of pathology results.


Community based cohort in Melbourne over the period July 2006–October 2009.


1136 Karen refugee children and adults, representing almost complete local area settlement and 48% of total Victorian Karen humanitarian intake for the time period.

Main Outcome Measures

Prevalence of positive test results for refugee health screening, with breakdown by age group (<6 years, 6–11 years, 12–17 years, 18 years and older).


Overall prevalence figures were: anaemia 9.2%, microcytosis 19.1%, iron deficiency 13.1%, low vitamin B12 1.5%, low folate 1.5%, abnormal thyroid function tests 4.4%, vitamin D<50 nmol/L 33.3%, hypocalcaemia 7.4%, raised alkaline phosphatase 5.2%, abnormal liver transaminases 16.1%, hepatitis B surface antigen positive 9.7%, hepatitis B surface antibody positive 49.5%, isolated hepatitis B core antibody positive 9.0%, hepatitis C positive 1.9%, eosinophilia 14.4%, Schistosoma infection 7%, Strongyloides infection 20.8%, malaria 0.2%, faecal parasites 43.4%. Quantiferon-gold screening was positive in 20.9%. No cases of syphilis or HIV were identified. Serological immunity to vaccine preventable diseases was 87.1% for measles, 95% for mumps and 66.4% for rubella; 56.9% of those tested had seroimmunity to all three.


Karen refugees have high rates of nutritional deficiencies and infectious diseases and may be susceptible to vaccine preventable diseases. These data support the need for post-arrival health screening and accessible, funded catch-up immunisation.