Rheumatic fever is a serious but preventable illness. It mainly affects Māori and Pacific children and young people (aged 4 and above), especially if they have other family members who have had rheumatic fever.
It mainly affects children or teenagers, after a specific type of sore throat called Group A streptococcal (GAS) infection. In New Zealand we have much higher rates of rheumatic fever than most other developed countries, particularly amongst Maori and Pacific children. This is a major concern because rheumatic fever can cause permanent damage to a child’s heart valves – rheumatic heart disease. Rheumatic fever is preventable if all children or teenagers with a strep sore throat are treated.
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.
Rheumatic fever often starts with a sore throat, caused by a bacteria known as streptococcal infection. A few weeks later the following symptoms may develop:
- sore or swollen joints
- a skin rash
- stomach pain
- jerky movements.
Although these symptoms may disappear, the heart valves may be permanently damaged. This is called rheumatic heart disease (RHD).
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.