Health Areas / Avoiding Infections
WHAT is an infection and what infections are avoidable?

In New Zealand, avoidable infections tend to affect tamariki from lower income families, and those who are of Māori descent, more than any other groups.   Many hospital visits could be prevented by:

  • Increasing whānau understanding of health information

  • Encouraging whānau to seek health care more often.

What is an infection?

An infection occurs when an organism (germ) enters the human body and starts to multiply.

What is an infectious disease?

An infectious disease is an illnesses caused by germs like bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites.  Many germs live in and on our bodies.  They're normally harmless, but some germs can cause infections which can make you sick.  Some infections can be passed from person to person.  You can also become infected by contaminated food or water or contact with insects or animals.

The infectious diseases chart below provides information on a number of diseases.  It shows:

  • how each disease is spread

  • early symptoms

  • time between contact and sickness

  • how long children and adults should be kept away from the marae, early childhood centres, school, or work

  • diseases where pregnant women should seek advice from their midwife or doctor.

You can order hard copies of this resource from the HealthEd website.

What is immunisation?

Immunisation is sometimes referred to as ‘vaccination’.  It can protect people against harmful infections which can cause serious problems, including death.  It is one of the most effective ways to prevent disease.  Immunisation uses the body’s natural defence system to build resistance to specific infections.  When an immunised person comes in contact with that specific disease in the future, their immune system will respond to prevent them from developing the disease.  All vaccines approved for use in New Zealand are safe and have ongoing safety monitoring. 

The solution used in immunisation is called a vaccine.  Vaccines contain a dead or weakened form of a germ that cannot cause the disease, but is enough for the body’s immune system to remember the germ if it enters the body again and will fight it before illness can occur.

What can whānau do to avoid infections?

There are many ways to avoid infections.  Immunisation, good hand hygiene and safe food preparation can all help prevent whānau from becoming sick.  Being able to recognise the early signs of an infection, and seeking the right treatment straight away, can also help to stop minor infections becoming more serious. 

Click here for more information on how to avoid infections

Check out the handy video below for more information about immunisation.

What types of infectious diseases are preventable through immunisation?

Immunisation is the best way to protect whānau from serious diseases.  In New Zealand, there are many free vaccinations offered at different life stages as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.  While many of these diseases are much less common in Aotearoa, they still occur in many other parts of the world and are only a plane ride away.


What other infectious diseases can be prevented?

Aside from immunisation, there are many other ways to avoid infections, including good hand hygiene and safe food preparation. Being able to recognise the early signs of an infection, and seeking the right treatment straight away, can also help to stop minor infections becoming more serious.

Below are some common illnesses that can easily be prevented:

  • Rheumatic Fever

A child’s untreated sore throat (‘strep throat’) can lead to rheumatic fever.  Rheumatic fever is a serious preventable disease which can cause permanent heart damage. Children and young people who have the highest risk of getting rheumatic fever are mainly Māori and Pacific aged between 4-19 years, living in some parts of the North Island (including the Bay of Plenty and Lakes Districts).  Click here to find out how to prevent whānau from getting rheumatic fever.

  • Skin Infections

Sometimes whānau can get a skin infection, such as a boil, from bad bacteria which are on skin or in the environment. This small infection can heal or it might get more serious and grow bigger and spread to the body and blood. Sometimes tamariki might have a cut, scratch or insect bite. This type of wound may heal if it is cleaned and covered. However if the wound gets infected with bad bacteria, tamariki can get an infection like cellulitis (you say, ‘sell-u-ly-tis’) or impetigo (you say, ‘im-pa-ty-go’) which can be really serious.

In New Zealand, Māori tamariki (between 0-4 years old) have higher rates of serious skin infections than any other group. Serious skin infections are a major cause of avoidable hospitalisation in New Zealand and if left untreated skin infections can lead to serious health problems. Skin infections are preventable, click here to find out how to prevent whānau from getting skin infections.

  • Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections include coughs, colds, pneumonia and influenza.  For some tamariki, severe or repeat respiratory infections can lead to permanent lung damage resulting in a life time of ill health and disability and possibly premature death.
It’s important to remember:

  • coughing is common in children, especially when they are pre-school age, and is usually short lived

  • a persistent cough (more than 3 weeks) is not normal and needs to be checked out by a nurse or doctor

  • a wet cough is “chesty” and phlegmy (you say ‘flem-my’).  A ‘wet’ cough is not normal, see your doctor

  • a dry cough is less likely to produce phlegm (mucous) and can sound irritated, harsh, or barking. If in doubt phone Healthline 0800 611 116 for free advice.

The Bay of Plenty area has a very high rate of hospital admission for tamariki with respiratory infections; this can be prevented!

  • Gastro

Gastroenteritis (gastro) causes nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, tummy cramps and pain.  Whānau suffering from the typical viral gastro are usually well again within five to seven days.

Viral gastro can be spread very easily and can even be spread for at least two days after diarrhoea or vomiting stops.  Gastro illnesses are preventable, click here to find out how to prevent whānau from getting gastro bugs.

HE AHA AI
Why should whānau avoid infections?

 HE AHA
What is an infection and what infections are avoidable?

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How can whānau avoid infections?