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There are concerns people with asthma and allergies may face discrimination due to similarities with Covid-19 symptoms.
A new study conducted by Sensitive Choice, a National Asthma Council programme, has found 41% of Otago residents would automatically assume someone coughing or sneezing near them may have Covid-19.
The research also shows a large proportion of the population live with asthma and allergies such as hay fever, which can produce similar symptoms to Covid, particularly with high levels of pollen around.
According to the study, the number of those who say they were living with asthma in Otago was 7%.
Massey University epidemiologist Prof Jeroen Douwes said the results of the study were concerning and better awareness of the burden of asthma and more support for those living with the condition was necessary to help reduce the number of hospital admissions and largely preventable loss of life each year.
He said there was not enough research available yet to fully understand the relationship between asthma and Covid-19 or whether the complications from the disease may be more significant, but many New Zealanders living with asthma would have elevated stress levels as a result of the uncertainty.
"Any scenario where a person with asthma may experience stigma or discrimination as a result of experiencing common symptoms of the disease puts them at unnecessary risk.
"In the current pandemic environment, this could occur in the workplace or at school, where the standard practice for those who are coughing or sneezing is to send them home.''
It was important to show empathy to those living with asthma and allergies, he said.
"The last thing we need is an environment where a person with asthma feels they should be self-conscious when they should be seeking help or delays seeing their GP.''
The Sensitive Choice study found more than half of New Zealanders live with some form of allergy.
Among those New Zealanders living with asthma or allergies, many had experienced a range of emotions which in some cases had been heightened by the current pandemic, the study found.
One in 10 of those living with asthma or allergies feel embarrassed about their health condition while others said they feel depressed (9%), disadvantaged (9%), or sad (8%).
Prof Douwes said in New Zealand the burden of asthma was weighted disproportionately higher towards children from some ethnicities and future research into reducing the burden of asthma in New Zealand should be concentrated to help solve specific issues.
"There are still children, predominantly Maori and Pasifika children, in this country that end up in hospital multiple times a year and are not being prescribed the standard treatment."