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Auckland's disease hotspots found

SHABNAM DASTGHEIB
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2014

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Westies and North Shore residents are being struck down with more diseases than any other Aucklanders, a new report says.

In a review of Auckland's most recent health statistics, we have found nearly 5000 Aucklanders suffered with notifiable diseases last year - diseases that must be reported to health authorities for tracking.

The Waitemata District Health Board, which covers West Auckland and the North Shore, had more cases than anywhere else.

Food-based illness pushed Waitemata to the top of the disease list - 42 per cent of all campylobacter cases were in the region, which also led the way in gastroenteritis.

However the Auckland District Health Board had more types of diseases overall and had the worst figures in 12 categories.

With large immigrant populations and many travellers stopping over, the central suburbs lead in exotic diseases dengue fever and malaria.

But in poverty-related illnesses Counties Manukau District Health Board region is in front.

South Auckland had more cases of whooping cough (pertussis), rheumatic fever and pneumococcal meningitis, with double the number of the cases of meningococcal disease than each of the other two health boards.

The latest statistics on notifiable disease are part of a nationwide annual report put together by Environment Science and Research and the Ministry of Health.

SOUTH - DISEASES OF POVERTY

Health experts agree that although the causes are more complicated than they are sometimes made out to be, overcrowded and inadequate housing could be a major contributing factor in South Auckland's high disease rates.

Overcrowding in in the region, coupled with high power costs, meant many people often congregated in one room, allowing bugs to spread more easily, University of Auckland professor Diana Lennon, said.

She said pushing the vaccination message was key.

"Right now we are doing very well in South Auckland but there's a lag," she said.

"We have to put money into it and make sure everyone is vaccinated."

Lennon said adults would often recover from whooping cough but it could be harmful to babies and young children.

"We have got a big group of people who are unimmunised. We should vaccinate around the new babies, vaccinate the new mothers and grandparents. It's a family disease."

She said getting on top of the problem would take years as the illnesses had "a long shadow".

Tila Thomson, 31, a spokeswoman for the government campaign against rheumatic fever, was diagnosed with rheumatic fever 20 years ago and said it was the worst time of her life.

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The fever began with a sore throat and sore joints, and then one morning the pain became so unbearable she was paralysed.

"My family thought it was an island sickness, we had just come back from Samoa," she said.

"We went to the doctor a few times before I woke up one morning and couldn't move. I cried for ages in my room."

Thomson knows her over-crowded living conditions probably contributed to her contracting the illness - often there would be 10 or more people living in their three-bedroom home.

"It's like that for a Pacific Island family," she said.

"Students I work with now are in a similar situation." 

WEST AND NORTH - FOOD-BORNE ILLNESS

The causes of illnesses like campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis were hard to pinpoint but people needed to be vigilant around hand hygiene and food safety, Ministry for Primary Industries principal advisor Craig Thornley said.

Food-borne illnesses tended to peak in spring and summer for various reasons including relaxation of food safety around barbecues and social gatherings.

Eateries couldn't be blamed for spreading the bacteria unless an outbreak occurred and more than one person blamed a certain restaurant - then an investigation could take place, Thornley said.

CENTRAL AUCKLAND - EXOTIC ILLNESS

Medical officer of health Simon Baker thought exotic illnesses like dengue fever and malaria were more common in central Auckland because that was where most travellers tended to stay.

Typhoid was more prevalent in South Auckland because of its high Pacific population who probably contracted the illness while visiting overseas.

WHAT ARE CAMPYLOBACTERIOSIS AND SALMONELLOSIS?

New Zealand's most common food-borne illness is caused by the campylobacter bacteria.

It can also be contracted through contact with birds and animals but usually occurs in isolated cases from contaminated poultry, unpasteurised milk and untreated drinking water.

Symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever within two to five days of being exposed to the organism.

The second-most common food-borne illness is caused by the salmonella bacteria and can also be spread person-to-person. Salmonella is caught from contact with contaminated food or water, or contact with infected animals.

It can live in the gut of many farm animals, while fruit, vegetables and shellfish can be contaminated through contact with untreated waste and wildlife. Salmonella lasts about a week and while it can be fatal, most people recover within a week without treatment.

WHAT IS RHEUMATIC FEVER?

This serious illness most often affects Maori and Pacific children and young adults, aged 4-19 years. Children and young people are the most likely to get rheumatic fever and it often occurs after a strep throat.

Untreated strep throat develops into rheumatic fever, where heart, joints, brain and skin become inflamed and swollen. It can cause heart disease and death.

WHAT IS WHOOPING COUGH?

Whooping cough is a highly infectious respiratory disease and most commonly occurs in children. Symptoms for babies can be severe. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis or 100-Day Cough, is typically spread by coughing and sneezing. Hospital treatment could be needed and it can be fatal.

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- Stuff

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