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An untreated sore throat can lead to a serious illness: rheumatic fever.
Children and young people are the most likely to get rheumatic fever. It occurs after ‘strep throat’ – a throat infection caused by the Streptococcus bacteria.
Most strep throat gets better and doesn’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.
Find out more from the Ministry
Information about what the Ministry and the health sector are doing to address rheumatic fever in New Zealand. - Rheumatic fever
If a child or family member has rheumatic fever, they’re likely to have:
- a warm, swollen painful joint (or joints)
- stomach pain.
Sometimes they may also have:
- a skin rash
- lumps under the skin that aren’t itchy or painful
- jerky, uncoordinated movements of their hands, feet, tongue and face.
If you or a family member has a sore throat please seek medical assistance. If you 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.
- People who have had rheumatic fever need extra medical care for many years afterwards, to prevent further damage to their heart. This includes 10 years of monthly penicillin injections.
- People who develop rheumatic heart disease need cardiology and specialist dental care.
An initiative of the Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand.
The National Heart Foundation
Helping people affected by heart disease and encouraging heart health.
A Health Sponsorship Council (HSC) information for parents and health workers
Toi Te Ora
The Bay of Plenty DHB ran an awareness campaign and provides online information.
Heart Children New Zealand
Support for people affected by heart disease during their childhood.