Rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever is a serious illness, which in New Zealand most often affects Māori and Pacific children and young adults, aged 4–19 years.

This section provides information about what is being done by the Ministry, through its Rheumatic Fever Prevention Programme, and by the health sector to address rheumatic fever. It also provides links to information for health professionals.


Latest media updates

10 July 2014: More than 3,300 visits to free sore throat clinics

1 May 2014: Budget 2014: Additional $20 to help fight rheumatic fever

20 February 2014: More children protected from preventable diseases

19 Febraury 2014: Rheumatic fever housing prioritisation extended

8 July 2013 – Ministers’ press release: New Zealand children getting better start to life

6 May 2013 – Budget 2013: Additional $21.3m to fight rheumatic fever


What is rheumatic fever?

Children and young people are the most likely to get rheumatic fever. It occurs after a ‘strep throat’ – a throat infection caused by a Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria.

Most strep throats gets 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, brain and skin 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 heart valve replacement surgery, and it can cause premature death.

In 2012, 171 people were admitted to hospital for the first time with rheumatic fever.

Sore throat? – action to take

If you live in a high risk area or are Māori or Pacific and have a sore throat, please see a doctor or nurse quickly. There are throat swabbing programmes running in many primary and intermediate schools in high risk areas. If your doctor or nurse thinks you may have strep throat, you’ll be given antibiotics to clear up the infection before it can develop into rheumatic fever. It’s important to take the full course of antibiotics to stop the infection.

What is happening to address rheumatic fever?

The Ministry of Health is working to cut New Zealand’s incidence of rheumatic fever. The Ministry’s aim is that no ethnic groups or geographical communities should be disadvantaged with higher rates of rheumatic fever.

Key areas of work

The Ministry’s Rheumatic Fever Prevention Programme was established to prevent or treat Group A Streptococcal infection which can lead to rheumatic fever in high risk individuals and communities.

It is doing this by:

Rheumatic Fever Prevention Programme
Activity How
Prevent the transmission of Strep A sore throats
Auckland-wide Healthy Homes Initiative Systematically identifying children living in the Auckland area who are at risk of developing rheumatic fever and offering a package of housing-related interventions to reduce their risks.
Community awareness raising about healthy communal living Improving healthy communal living for Pacific families through home visiting and supporting church networks.
Treat Strep A sore throats quickly and effectively
School-based throat swabbing programme Providing school-based throat swabbing services in the 10 DHB areas with the highest incidence of rheumatic fever: Northland, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Waitemata, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Tairāwhiti, Lakes, Hawkes Bay and Capital & Coast.
Sore throat management  in primary and community care Providing access to rapid sore throat management in areas where there are large numbers of cases (particularly where there are no school-based services) and improving the management of sore throats in high-risk children across the country.
Increase health literacy amongst professionals and the public Delivering a communications campaign to raise awareness of sore throats and rheumatic fever among vulnerable communities and supporting them to take action to protect their children.

Developing training and resources such as online learning modules for professionals.

Rheumatic fever key facts:

  • 171 cases of acute rheumatic fever, or 3.9 cases per 100,000 people, were diagnosed in New Zealand in 2012.
  • Māori and Pacific children and young adults (aged 4–19) have the highest rate of acute rheumatic fever.
  • Rheumatic fever is most common in the North Island.
  • The Rheumatic Fever Prevention Programme is working in the 10 DHB areas which have the highest incidence of rheumatic fever hospital admissions – Northland, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Waitemata, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Tairāwhiti, Lakes, Hawkes Bay and Capital & Coast DHBs.

More information about rheumatic fever

Visit Rheumatic fever in the Your health section for more information.

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