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Health Environment & Infection Research Unit (HEIRU), Department of Public Health

The Health, Environment & Infection Research Unit (HEIRU) is a collaboration of researchers focused on reducing the impact of infectious diseases and adverse environmental factors on population health. We use a range of research methods to investigate these health concerns and to identify interventions to reduce the burden of disease and health inequalities, and support a shift to greater environmental sustainability.

HEIRU aims to provide evidence-based recommendations and advice to support NZ and international agencies and practitioners in their disease prevention and control activities. We have a strong focus on emerging infectious diseases, diseases linked to crowded and poor quality housing, and diseases linked to NZ agricultural practices. Specific examples are influenza, rheumatic fever, and campylobacteriosis.

A strong focus of research for HEIRU is diseases at the interface between acute infections and long-term conditions. This focus includes the concept of syndemics, which refers to the way in which diseases may interact and cluster and the social and environmental factors that create and worsen these interactions. An important New Zealand example is rheumatic fever, which is a major research focus for HEIRU.

HEIRU staff members are involved in teaching infectious disease epidemiology and environmental health. This teaching includes the University of Otago’s Health Protection Paper (PUBH734) and Public Health Summer School courses focused on infectious diseases, environmental health, climate change and related area.