Rheumatic fever programme expanded
The Ministry of Health’s Rheumatic Fever Prevention Programme is funding new health services, including school-based sore throat swabbing services, to help with the early detection of throat infections that can lead to this serious disease.
When fully implemented, more than 100 schools - with more than 35,000 children enrolled - will be involved in the swabbing programme, part of a $24 million five-year campaign to reduce rheumatic fever.
Public health nurse Chris Campbell with Cannons Creek Primary School student Lupe Aitogi-Paese. Credit: Capital and Coast DHB.
Rheumatic fever can result from a throat infection caused by Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria if not identified and treated early enough. It can also cause permanent heart damage and reduce life expectancy. Children between 5 and 14 years of age are particularly affected and Maori and Pacific children nationwide have 20 to 40 times higher rates of the disease than other groups.
So far the Ministry's programme has funded school-based sore throat swabbing services in communities where Rheumatic Fever rates are high, including parts of Porirua, Northland, Hawkes Bay, Bay of Plenty, Lakes District, and Tairawhiti. Throat swabbing will also soon begin in some South Auckland schools. Under the programme pupils are assessed by health professionals for possible throat infection and where necessary followed-up with a course of antibiotics to stop bacteria developing.
The programme is also raising community awareness about sore throats, developing clinical tools, training health professionals to recognise rheumatic fever, and undertaking research, monitoring and evaluation to ensure a better understanding of the disease and the best actions to address it. This is the beginning of an important work programme at the Ministry with more initiatives over the coming months.