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Respiratory infections cause over 1,300 deaths

Media Statement
The Asthma Foundation
From the New Zealand Respiratory Conference

Embargoed until Thursday 27 September 2012

Respiratory infections cause 27,000 overnight hospitalisations for infectious diseases per year and over 1,300 deaths

Over the last 20 years the incidence of acute overnight hospitalisations for infectious diseases in New Zealand has risen by more than 50%, with lower respiratory infections the single biggest cause, the New Zealand Respiratory Conference in Wellington was told today. This increase in infectious diseases is particularly important as they are the main cause of respiratory disease hospitalisations (71%) and respiratory disease deaths (56%) in New Zealand. This equates to 27,000 respiratory hospitalisations a year and over 1,300 respiratory deaths.

Associate Professor Michael Baker, public health physician in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington presented his latest research demonstrating the impact that increasing social inequalities are having on infectious diseases and particularly respiratory disease.

“The distribution of infectious diseases in New Zealand almost exactly matches patterns of social inequality. Those living in the poorest neighbourhoods are almost three times more likely to be hospitalised than those living in the least deprived areas.”says associate professor Baker.

“The connection between poverty, overcrowding, cold houses and increased respiratory admissions to hospital is well established,” says associate professor Baker. “Many of these serious infections are preventable or would respond well to early treatment”.

“Serious infections cause great personal, social and financial costs for patients and families,” says Dr Bob Hancox, Medical Director of the Foundation. “The fact that there are 27,000 hospital admissions and over 1,300 deaths from respiratory infections each year highlights the importance of reducing poverty, better housing, and improving access to primary health care to improve respiratory health. Hospital treatment for respiratory infections also puts a great burden on the health service. Better prevention and earlier treatment would save money as well as lives.”

Associate Professor Baker says responding to the public health threat posed by infectious diseases requires a multi-sectoral approach with interventions aimed at basic social determinants such as income levels, housing conditions, and access to health services.
Fortunately, there are interventions that can decrease such inequalities. Housing New Zealand’s Healthy Housing Programme appears able to lower hospitalisation rates by about 25% for children living in households that receive this intervention. Research being carried out by the Housing and Health Research programme at the University of Otago has shown that home insulation and improved heating can also reduce hospital admissions.
“These presentations to the New Zealand Respiratory Conference reinforce the importance of prevention” says Angela Francis, Chief Executive of the Foundation. “Give our children good housing, good lungs and a good start so they have the best opportunity to grow strong and be well throughout their lives”.


Notes for editors:

1. About 1 in 4 New Zealand children has asthma and 1 in 6 adults.
2. New Zealand has the second highest rate of asthma in the world, following the UK.
3. About 800 000 New Zealanders are affected by asthma and other respiratory conditions.

About the Asthma Foundation

The Asthma Foundation is New Zealand’s not-for-profit sector authority on asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

We advocate to government and raise awareness of respiratory illnesses, fund research for better treatments and educate on best practice. We provide resources on our website and support our 17 affiliated Asthma Societies in providing education, support and advice.

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