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Asthma, meningococcal illness likely to spike in schools

New Zealand health experts are warning parents and educators to be vigilant for these common illnesses as students return to school.

Asthma attacks and meningococcal disease are among the illnesses that experts are warning might rise during the back-to-school season.  

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation is warning the community that asthma attacks and associated hospitalisations are likely to “spike” around this time. They urge parents and caregivers to communicate with schools to ensure there is an action plan for any incidents.  

Read the Term 1 edition of School News HERE 

“The ‘back-to-school effect’ is greater than the ‘winter effect’ when it comes to children’s respiratory disease,” says Asthma and Respiratory Foundation chief executive Letitia Harding.  

She says hospitalisations from asthma attacks are at their highest during weeks three and four of Term One.  

Photo: AdobeStock by pololia

Harding cites international studies which have found that being in a different environment with different allergen exposure, changes in emotions and exposure to viruses all contribute to the increase in hospitalisations around back-to-school season.  

A Hawke’s Bay school nurse has also recently warned parents about meningococcal disease. Data recently released by the New Institute of Environmental Science and Research showed Kiwi teens and young adults saw an 88 percent increase in cases of meningococcal during the same time last year.  

Māori youth are seeing larger increases in case numbers, though the numbers are also on the rise in European males.  

Caryn Williams, the school nurse who raised the issue, notes that Years 12 and 13 are particularly at risk as they attend balls, parties, music festivals and other events with large crowds.  

Older teens are particularly at risk as they may attend events with large crowds. Photo by Nicholas Green on Unsplash.

“There are numerous risk factors in these environments, including sharing vapes and beverages. Once they’ve had a couple of drinks, they tend to lose their inhibitions and are more cavalier with their health.”  

A free meningococcal vaccine is available for anyone ages 13 – 25, and it’s encouraged for those entering boarding school or University accommodation.  

Meningococcal disease, though uncommon, can be life-threatening in some cases. It is a bacterial infection, passed between people via respiratory droplets and spit.  

Asthma affects 1 in 8 people in New Zealand, and children make up one-third of all asthma related hospitalisations.  

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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