2 Feb, 2023

Rheumatic fever

photo of a young boy getting his mouth checked for Rheumatic fever

It starts with a sore throat and can lead to heart surgery, and is more prevalent in winter and the colder months. Rheumatic fever is a painful illness that is preventable, so take note of the key prevention message: Get your child’s sore throat checked now.

Rheumatic fever which mainly affects Maori and Pacific children and youths (aged 4-19 years) starts with a sore throat, known as strep throat – a throat infection caused by bacteria called Group A Streptococcus.

Pacific children are about 40 times more likely to be hospitalised for Rheumatic fever and Maori children are about 20 times more likely than non-Maori/non-Pacific children.

Most strep throats get better and don’t lead to Rheumatic fever when a doctor is seen and antibiotics are taken.

However, in a small number of people an untreated strep throat leads to Rheumatic fever 1-5 weeks after a sore throat occurs. Rheumatic fever causes the heart, joints (elbows and knees), brain and skin to become inflamed and swollen.

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. People with Rheumatic heart disease may need open heart surgery and penicillin shots for at least 10 years.

Rheumatic fever can dramatically affect your child’s life – it can become difficult for them to play sport or do other activities they may usually do as they will have less energy. But the illness can be prevented by getting sore throats checked every time.

Rheumatic fever symptoms your child may develop include:

  • Sore and swollen joints (knees, elbows, ankles and wrists) – joints may also feel hot; different joints may be sore on different days
  • On-going fever that lasts a few days
  • Stomach pains
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • An unusual-looking rash on their body, arms and legs

Need to know - it starts with a sore throat:

  • A sore throat can lead to Rheumatic fever if it’s left untreated. Rheumatic fever is very serious and causes heart damage.
  • Every time your child has a sore throat it could be serious. Don’t ignore it, bring them to The Fono straight away to get it checked.
  • If you are prescribed a course of antibiotics, take them for the whole 10 days or they might not work.

If your child complains of a sore throat, get it checked straight away. A throat check is simple and FREE for Pacific and Maori children aged 4 and over at The Fono West and West Central. NO APPOINTMENT NECESSARY.

We also provide individual family or community education sessions that can be booked by self-referral or as a community session with a community group.