Rheumatic fever is a serious but preventable illness. It mainly affects Māori and Pacific children and young people (aged 4 to 19 years), especially if they have other family members who have had rheumatic fever. 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 after about four days. But if strep throat is not treated with antibiotics it can cause rheumatic fever in at-risk children and young people. All sore throats in "Maori" and Pacific children and young people (aged 4-19 years) who are living in some parts of the North Island need to be checked.
If your child has strep throat, they'll be given oral antibiotics for 10 days or a one-off penicillin injection to clear up the infection. It's important to take the oral antibiotics for the full 10 days, even if they are feeling better.
Rheumatic fever is an autoimmune disease. It happens when your child's immune system makes a mistake and attacks other parts of your child's body, as well as the strep throat germs. Most strep throats get better and don't lead to rheumatic fever. However, in a small number of people, an untreated strep throat develops into "rheumatic fever" where their heart, joints (elbows and knees), brain and skin become inflamed and swollen.
A strep throat infection can lead to rheumatic fever, even if it's the first time or a one-off. The risk of getting rheumatic fever gets higher when someone has repeated untreated strep throat infections.While the symptoms of rheumatic fever may disappear on their own, the inflammation from even one rheumatic fever attack could develop into rheumatic heart disease, where there is scarring of the heart valves. This is serious. But almost all cases of rheumatic fever, rheumatic heart disease and associated deaths are preventable.