Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever is a serious but preventable illness. It mainly affects Māori and Pacific children and young people (aged four and older), especially if they have other family members who have had rheumatic fever.

Sore throats need checking

Rheumatic fever starts with a sore throat that is known as ‘strep throat’ – a throat infection caused by a bacteria called Group A Streptococcus.

Most sore throats get better on their own, but if strep throat is not treated with antibiotics it can cause rheumatic fever in at-risk children. Because rheumatic fever is such a serious illness, all sore throats in Māori and Pacific children and young people (aged 4 and above) need to be checked.

Effects of rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever makes the heart, joints (elbows and knees), brain and skin swollen and painful.

Rheumatic fever is an ‘autoimmune disease’, which means there is a problem with the immune system (the cells and organs that protect the body against illnesses and infections).

Rheumatic fever happens when your child’s immune system makes a mistake and attacks your child’s heart instead of the germs from an illness.

While the symptoms of rheumatic fever may disappear on their own, the inflammation can cause rheumatic heart disease, where there is scarring of the heart valves. Rheumatic heart disease can be life threatening.

If your child has rheumatic fever

If your child develops rheumatic fever they will need a lot of bed rest and time off school. They’ll need to stay in hospital for weeks, where they will have examinations and blood tests to check their condition.

Rheumatic fever can affect your child’s life, making it more difficult for them to play sport or do other activities as they will have less energy.

Rheumatic heart disease

If your child has more attacks of rheumatic fever then they may develop rheumatic heart disease. This can cause serious heart problems, damaging your child’s heart forever. Your child may need heart surgery.

A free service offering preventive treatment to rheumatic fever clients. Our service is offered from Monday – Friday 8 am to 5 pm and once a month we offer two late night clinics on Tuesday and Thursday night until 6.30 pm. We also offer to provide this treatment in homes or at school. Our main aim is to provide an accessible service to the clients.

Referral process once diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever:

New clients are notified of our service via the Medical Officer of Health. Once the Public Health Nurse (PHN) is aware of the new case, they will meet the client and their whanau at the hospital, in our clinic or at their home. The PHN will provide education and support and will meet up monthly to administer their monthly bicillin injection.

Our service also will provide treatment to clients that may be here on holiday or have transferred here.

Specialist staff:

Public Health Nurses, Medical Officer of Health


Exams and procedures:

• Nursing assessments
• Monthly bicillin injection
• Yearly Influenza Vaccination

How to get in touch:

0800 935 524 / 869 2092
Fax: 869 2093
Email: Public.Health.Nurses@tdh.org.nz

Does your tamaiti have a sore throat? Get it swabbed.

If your child has a sore throat, take them to your local health professional to get tested. It’s quick and easy and FREE. Sore throat bugs (GAS) mainly spread through air when coughing and sneezing, so create as much space as possible between the heads of sleeping children.

Rheumatic Fever is still present in our communities. Māori and Pacific children and young adults aged 4 to 19 years are more likely to get rheumatic fever – especially if they have other whānau members who have had it.

Warmer, drier homes

  • Open your curtains during the day and close them at night. Your windows let heat in during the day. Closing curtains to keep the heat in, and the cold out.
  • Stop cold air getting into your home by stopping draughts around doors, windows and fireplaces.
  • Find out if your home is insulated. Insulation is one of the best ways to keep your home warm.
  • Open windows (ventilate) in the kitchen when you cook, and in the bathroom when you shower or take a bath, to let steam out.
  • Wipe off any water that has collected (condensation) on walls and on the inside of windows to keep your home dry, and easier to heat.
  • Dry you’re washing outside or in the garage or carport. It keeps the dampness from your washing (which can build up condensation) outside of your home.
  • Use bleach or white vinegar to remove mould from ceilings and walls. Mould grows in damp and wet places and it can affect your family’s health.
  • If you have been checked for a sore-throat by one of the clinics and meet the criteria (infants and children being the priority), for follow-up; you may be referred to the Healthy Homes Initiative service who will contact you to organize a healthy housing assessment

What happens if my Child gets Rheumatic Fever? 

  • Rheumatic Fever has lifelong consequences for health, including years of monthly injections and possible heart valve replacement surgery.
  • Rheumatic fever can lead to rheumatic heart disease. This is where there is scarring of the heart valves. This stops valves from working properly
  • Once diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever, a huge concern is that the future of the child has changed. – quoted by Dr Lance O’Sullivan, Northland GP.

See this video from RHD Australia about Rheumatic Fever:


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