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Maori and Pacific children 'at greatest risk of hearing loss'

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Maori and Pacific Island children have the highest levels of hospitalisation from ear infections but have gained the most from national immunisation programmes, according to a new study.

Each year more than 5,000 Kiwi children are hospitalised with serious ear infections which if not treated, could lead to permanent hearing loss.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris - Senior Lecturer, Dept General Practice and Primary Health Care of the University of Auckland - says some middle ear infections are preventable.

She cites a new NZ study which demonstrates how pneumococcal vaccination helps to reduce hospitalisation for invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD).

Dr Petousis-Harris says the study shows the 10-valent vaccine (Synflorix), appears to have reduced all-cause pneumonia and otitis media (middle ear infection) hospitalisations as well as IPD.

"Our study found that vaccination appears to play a role in reducing the high levels of ear infection in young children we currently have in New Zealand," she says.

Dr Petousis-Harris’ research will be presented to the region’s leading experts from the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID) conference in Auckland this week.

The ASID conference is an exchange of scientific advances in the prevention, diagnosis and management of clinical infectious diseases. Dr Petousis-Harris says statistics show that Maori and Pacific Island children from high deprivation are particularly vulnerable and that they have benefited most from vaccination.

This is important given that one in ten Maori and Pacific Island children will fail hearing checks when they start school - a number that is twice as high as NZ European children.

She says these children have the highest levels of hospitalisation from ear infections and have the most to gain from national immunisation programmes. However since the introduction of the vaccine, the rates in Maori and Pacific children have fallen more than any other group.

Meanwhile, Starship otolaryngologist Dr Colin Barber says it is critical that ear infections are addressed as early as possible to prevent long term developmental impacts in Kiwi children.

"Eight out of ten children will suffer from ear infections by the age of three. Ear infections account for 83,000 GP consultations annually in New Zealand, and along with the time two thirds of parents must take off work to tend sick children, carries a significant economic cost to the country," says Dr Barber.

"Research shows that hearing loss is associated with a range of educational issues and has also found that there is a higher incidence of hearing loss in the New Zealand male prison population which indicates a potential link between the condition and anti-social behaviour," he says.

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