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Better housing would slash hospital admissions for acute respiratory infections among young children by almost 20%, a new study finds.
''I certainly think it's a wake-up call'' for policy-makers, study lead author Tristram Ingham said yesterday.
''We can't ignore it.''
Dr Ingham, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Otago, Wellington, said some doctors were seeing young children repeatedly reinfected by damp and mouldy housing.
''Children come back with recurrent infections,'' he said.
Reducing exposure to poor-quality housing could cut the number of hospital admissions for under-2-year-olds by 1700 (19%) a year, the study found.
In 2015, 9003 under-2-year-olds were hospitalised in Wellington for acute respiratory infections, out of an estimated population of 118,580.
This was a rate per population of 7.6%.
''If all housing was free from damp and mould, the country could save just under $8 million a year solely in hospital costs,'' Dr Ingham said.
Such hospital admission rates for under-2s with acute respiratory infections were double the OECD average, and treble for Maori and Pacific children.
There could also be long-term health consequences.
It started ''a lifelong journey of ill health'' for some youngsters, he said.
Improving housing quality to prevent such hospitalisations was also ''highly desirable'' to cut future health costs.
The researchers conducted the case-control study in two paediatric wards and five general practice clinics in Wellington during winter and spring between 2011 and 2013.
The study focused on 188 children admitted to hospital with acute respiratory infections and 454 control patients - those who saw their GP either with a respiratory illness not requiring hospitalisation or for a routine immunisation.
The children who became ill had significantly higher levels of dampness and mould in their homes, which could be improved by better heating, insulation and ventilation, the study said.