Mar 2015

Parents Warned To Act Quickly to Prevent Child Hearing Loss – Starship Surgeon

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Kiwi parents need to be more vigilant in monitoring their children for ear infections if we want to prevent hearing loss and reduce the numbers admitted to hospital annually, according to a leading Starship surgeon.

Dr Colin BarberKiwi parents need to be more vigilant in monitoring their children for ear infections if we want to prevent hearing loss and reduce the numbers admitted to hospital annually, according to a leading Starship surgeon.

Each year more than 5,000 Kiwi children are hospitalised with serious ear infections which if not treated, could lead to permanent hearing loss.1-3

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.4-7

“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.8-10

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.11

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.



  1. Milne RJ, Vander Hoorn S. Report to the New Zealand Ministry of Health. GlaxoSmithKline NZ Ltd; 2009;
  2. Lee J et al. Laryngoscope. 2006;116:1798-1804
  3. Williams T and Jacobs A et al. Med J Aust. 2009;191:S69-S72
  4. Teele DW et al.  J Infect Dis. 1989;160:83-94
  5. Gribben B et al. J Prim Health Care. 2012;4:205–212
  6. Barber C et al. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology 78 (2014) 300–306
  7. Milne & Vander Hoorn, Appl Health Econ Health Policy 2010
  8. Greenberg D et al. Eur J Paediatr 2003;162:576-581
  9. O’Connor T et al. Med J Aust. 2009;191:S32-S80
  10. Bowers M.  Hearing impairment in prisoners.  Auckland (NZ): Deafness Research Foundation; 1986
  11. Greville Consulting. New Zealand Hearing and Vision Screening report.  Available at: http://www.grevilleconsulting.co.nz/publications.  Accessed 4 October 2010.
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Fleur Revell
Fleur Revell is one of the country’s most eminent PR consultants and public relations practitioners with more than 20 years industry experience behind her. Fleur is also a three times Qantas Media Awards winner and Feature Writer of the Year; and has an exceptional working knowledge of the New Zealand media landscape and its accelerating evolution in the digital age.
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