Health and cold damp houses

This section presents statistics on health conditions related to cold and damp houses.  These include asthma, lower respiratory tract infections and rheumatic fever. 

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Poor quality housing and health
Rheumatic fever

Poor quality housing and health

Cold, damp and mouldy homes impact on our health and our children’s health. Cold homes have been linked to cardiovascular disease and respiratory illness. Indoor dampness and mould have been linked to:

  • asthma
  • respiratory infections
  • rheumatic fever.

Across the above health conditions, some children are consistently more affected: infants, Māori and Pacific children, and children living in the most socioeconomically deprived areas. 


Indoor dampness and mould, and second-hand smoke exposure, are a few of a number of triggers for asthma. 

  • In 2012/13, 15 percent of children took medication for asthma (111,000 children aged 2–14 years), according to the New Zealand Health Survey [1]. Rates had not changed significantly since 2006/07. Taking medication for asthma was more common among Māori children.   
  • In 2006–2010 there were about 4,800 hospital admissions for asthma annually in children under 15 years (a rate of 6 per 1000) [2]
  • The hospital admission rate for asthma gradually increased between 2000 and 2010.
  • In 2006–2010, hospital admission rates for asthma were higher among children aged 1–3 years, Māori and Pacific children, and children living in more deprived areas.
  • On average, 5 children or young people die each year in New Zealand as a result of asthma.


Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory infection in infants, and is mainly caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).  Studies suggest that dampness and mould increase the risk of respiratory infections such as bronchiolitis.

  • In infants under 1 year, there were about 4,800 hospital admissions and 1 death each year for bronchiolitis [2].
  • In 2006–2010, hospitalisation rates for bronchiolitis were much higher than the national rate (75 per 1000) in Pacific infants (169 per 1000), Māori infants (115 per 1000), and infants living in the most deprived decile (163 per 1000).


Pneumonia is an inflammation of the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. Studies suggest that dampness and mould increase the risk of respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

  • On average, there were 3,400 hospital admissions for pneumonia each year in children aged 0–14 years (a rate of 4 per 1000) [2].
  • Children under 3 years aged 0–2 years have the highest hospitalisation rates for pneumonia.
  • Trends from 2000 to 2010 showed a gradual decline in pneumonia hospital admission rates in New Zealand children.
  • Rates were twice as high among Māori children, and over four times as high among Pacific children, as in European children.
  • Rates were three times as high in more deprived areas than in less deprived areas.
  • Each year, 10–11 children or young people die from pneumonia.

Rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever can be caused by an untreated sore throat, and can lead to rheumatic heart disease. Studies suggest that rheumatic fever is associated with dampness and household crowding.

New Zealand has some of the highest rates of rheumatic fever in the developed world. Reducing the incidence of rheumatic fever is a current government target. 

  • In 2013, there were 205 notifications of acute rheumatic fever in New Zealand, including 194 initial attack cases [3].
  • From 2005 to 2013, the notification rate increased from 2.1 to 4.6 per 100,000.
  • Children were most affected, particularly those aged 10–14 years.
  • Māori and Pacific were disproportionately affected by rheumatic fever, with most cases occurring in these ethnic groups.


1. Ministry of Health. 2013. New Zealand Health Survey: Annual update of key findings 2012/13. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

2. Craig E, Adams J, Oben G, Reddington A, Wicken A, Simpson J. 2013. The Health Status of Children and Young People in New Zealand. Dunedin: Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago. Available online:

3. ESR. 2014. Notifiable and Other Diseases in New Zealand: Annual Report 2013. Porirua: The Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd. Available online: