Health Areas / Avoiding Infections
HOW can whānau avoid infections?

There are many ways whānau can avoid infections, including immunisation, 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.

How can whānau avoid infections?

  • Immunisation

Immunisation is not just about protecting yourself.  When most people in a hapū or community are immunised (approximately 95%) ‘community immunity’ (also known as herd immunity) is achieved.  This means those who do not develop strong immunity or cannot be immunised have a smaller chance of becoming infected.

  • Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene, when done properly, is one of the best and cheapest  ways to avoid contracting and spreading many infections like colds, influenza and gastro illnesses. 

For effective hand hygiene teach whānau to:

  • wash hands thoroughly with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds

  • dry hands with a clean, dry towel or paper towel for 20 seconds.


Make frequent hand hygiene a rule for everyone especially:

  • before eating and cooking

  • after using the bathroom

  • after touching animals, including family pets

  • after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

  • after being outside

  • after handling raw meat and poultry



  • Safe Food Preparation

Foodborne illness’ is the term used when you are sick because of food and drink containing harmful germs like bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, toxins or natural contaminants.  It's often referred to as food poisoning. If you think you have an illness caused by food, see your doctor.

The cultural value of kai (food) has its roots embedded in the act of manaaki tangata – the giving and receiving of hospitality.  Manaaki manuhiri is a very important practice on marae.  Guests deserve the freshest, healthiest and cleanest food that can be provided. It’s just as important to prevent the spread of disease through hygienic and safe food handling.  For this reason Marae Food Safety Guidelines have been developed.  Read for some helpful tips to ensure the food served by your ringawera is safe to eat and give to your manuhiri.

  • Clean, Cook, Cover, Chill

Whether you’re on the marae, having a picnic, barbequing or on camping trip – you’ll be taking your food out of the fridge or freezer.  As soon as the temperature of the food begins to rise, bacteria in the food can multiply and this could put you at risk of getting sick.  Unless food is handled properly, it can cause problems so keep hot food HOT and cold food COLD.

Cross contamination from raw to cooked foods is one of the biggest risks.  Be careful with knives, cutting boards, hands – anything used for raw and cooked foods and clean them thoroughly when moving from raw to cooked foods.  Preferably, use different chopping boards for meat and other food.

It’s easy to reduce the risk of food borne illness by following four simple rules: Clean, Cook, Cover, Chill.

  • Cough and sneeze etiquette

Coughing and sneezing spreads germs into the air for others to breath in and onto surfaces where they can get on people’s hands. Encourage tamariki to practice good cough and sneeze etiquette. This means covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or coughing or sneezing into your elbow. Dispose of tissues in a lined rubbish bin and ensure children wash and dry hands immediately after coughing, sneezing or handling used tissues. Click here for more information on cough and sneeze etiquette.

5 messages to keep your family healthy

The '5 messages to keep your family healthy' resources are a good reminder of the simple ways whānau can avoid infections like rheumatic fever and skin infections.  These resources are available to download in English and Te Reo Māori.

How can whānau get immunised?

The National Immunisation Schedule is a series of planned immunisations to ensure whānau are protected when they are most vulnerable.  

For the best protection, it's important that all immunisations start during pregnancy and continue to be given on time, every time - but it is never too late to catch up.  All children under 18 years of age can have National Immunisation Schedule immunisations for free, including catch up doses of vaccines they have missed.

Immunisations are given at your local doctor or medical centre.  It’s important to ensure your baby is enrolled with a medical centre as soon after birth as possible.  The medical centre will then be able to send out reminders when baby’s immunisations are due.

When making a decision about immunisation it is important to be sure that you are getting information from a reliable source that is well researched and scientifically based.  Talking to your Plunket nurse, family doctor or practice nurse is a great way to learn more about immunisations.  You can also read here for more information.

Read here for information on what to expect during an immunisation.

Read here for frequently asked questions about diseases, vaccines and immunisation.

How can whānau avoid respiratory infections?

Better breathing

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  likely a premature death.www.asthmafoundation.org.nz/resources/better-breathing-a-checklist-for-healthy-lungs

  • Make sure tamariki are exclusively breastfed if possible, and then continue to be well nourished

  • Ensure women are immunised during pregnancy and childhood immunisations are on time, every time

  • Reduce exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy, at home and in the car

  • Ensure housing is warm, dry and well ventilated

  • Wash hands well and frequently, particularly when in contact with children and infants

  • Wet coughs and coughs lasting a long time (over 3 weeks) are not normal, call health line (0800 611 116)  for advice, or see your doctor: remember - GP visits are free for under 13 year olds in New Zealand.  

Healthy Whare

Whānau need warm, dry, affordable housing to maintain good health.  In New Zealand poor quality housing impacts on the health of families and children. 

Cold, damp and mouldy homes have been linked to:

  • asthma

  • respiratory infections

  • rheumatic fever.

Cold indoor temperatures also increase the risk of worsening heart problems and household crowding increases the risk of spreading infectious diseases, such as acute rheumatic fever.

The posters below provide information on how to keep your home warmer and drier and help protect your whānau from health problems.

How can whānau avoid infections when hunting, and gathering seafood?

It's important to keep our hapū safe and well by making sure the kai we provide on the marae and at home has been prepared in a safe wayTe Kai Manawa Ora provides useful advice to help you store, prepare and cook kai safely in your marae.

Wild food 

The sea and the forest are seen as two main food baskets for Māori. Many whānau hunt in the wild and gather seafood as a source of kai for the table, as a way of enjoying the land and sea, and for mahi ngahau.  Hunting, collecting and fishing for wild food, is a traditional part of Māori culture.


As New Zealanders we are fortunate to have a wide variety of wild foods at our doorstep. This provides many of us with the opportunity to supplement our table with foods such as wild pork, venison or duck.

When hunting in the bush there are two main food safety risks that hunters face from wild game and game birds.  These are bacterial contamination and chemical contamination.  This booklet provides information on the food safety risks associated with wild game and game birds to help hunters minimise those risks and make safe decisions about the wild food they catch, store and eat.

Similarly, collecting kaimoana from the sea is a much-loved tradition for many whānau. However, there are some risks you should be aware of before you head out to the coast.  This booklet provides information about collecting and storing to minimise the risk of sickness from contaminated seafood. 

Shellfish are an important food source for many people in New Zealand.  Unfortunately, shellfish can  be affected by naturally occurring toxins (such as paralytic shellfish poisoning), viruses and bacteria. You should avoid collecting and eating shellfish from areas where:

  • warning signs are displayed

  • pipes or culverts run down to the waterway

  • sewage or stormwater is discharged or there are lots of houses nearby

  • farm animals are grazing nearby

  • there may be industrial pollution

  • boats may discharge sewage, or near wharves and marinas in general

Do not collect shellfish after heavy rain as storms may flush sewage overflow or farm run-off downstream which contaminates
the water. After the water has run clear for a few days shellfish should be safer to collect again.

For more information on safe shellfish collection check out the heath warnings page on the Toi Te Ora - Public Health Service website.

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Why should whānau avoid infections?

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How can whānau avoid infections?