New cases of rheumatic fever hospitalised

10 November 2017

Two young people have been diagnosed in the last month with rheumatic fever. Both have been hospitalised.

Health organisations in Tairāwhiti have been focusing on eradicating rheumatic fever completely from the district. Unfortunately for the young people affected, their whānau and all the health professionals working towards eliminating this disease, this is a significant setback.

To avoid damage to their heart, the young people will need bicillin injections every month for the next ten years or until they are 21 years old, (whichever is the longest), says Medical Officer of Health Dr Anura Jayasinghe.

Currently, there are nearly 50 children and young people in the Tairāwhiti district who receive monthly bicillin injections.

“Rheumatic fever starts with a sore throat that can easily be ignored. It likes cold, damp, overcrowded homes and the sore throat leads to chronic heart damage if not treated.”

Getting all sore throats checked out promptly is the key to avoiding this disease, Dr Jayasinghe added. “Throat swabs and antibiotics are free for 4-19 year olds at all GP practices in the district. The swabs are generally done by the practice nurse; you don’t have to wait for an appointment with your doctor.”

“Group A streptococcal throat infection is what causes the damage if untreated. Antibiotics stop the infection and rheumatic fever developing. Streptococcal sore throats cannot be cured by sucking on a throat lozenge; they require a course of antibiotics taken for the full 10 days.”

“We were doing really well with a decrease from ten hospitalisations due to rheumatic fever in 2009 to no cases reported in the last 12 months before October. Tairāwhiti was one of eleven districts targeted in the five-year national campaign. Due to our previous success, the national campaign is now focused on Auckland where rheumatic fever is still prevalent. The recent cases in Tairāwhiti prove that we must be ever vigilant.”

Rheumatic fever mainly affects Pacific Island and Māori children and young people between the ages of 4 – 19 years old.

Along with getting all sore throats checked, keeping homes warm and dry makes a difference.

• Get all sore throats at your GP practice checked especially children aged 4-19 years

• If you are given antibiotics to finish the whole course

• Keep family home warm and dry