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Treating sore throats, stopping Rheumatic Fever

Minister of Health Dr Jonathan Coleman

Minister of Health Dr Jonathan Coleman

More than 150 health services now providing free sore throat swabbing, Waikato District Health Board and its community partners have made a commitment to decrease the rate of rheumatic fever in the region.

Across Waikato, a network of GP practices, selected pharmacies, Pathlab sites, Maori and Pacific providers and some secondary schools have begun free sore throat swabbing.

“We wanted to makes sure parents could drop in to access sore throat swabbing in an environment they felt comfortable, and at a time that was convenient for them,” said Waikato project manager Michelle Morley.

The results have meant this winter more sore throats caused by the bacteria Group A streptococcus (GAS) have been diagnosed and treated.  A GAS sore throat, if left untreated, leads to rheumatic fever in about 3 per cent of patients and causes irreversible heart damage.  In the Waikato the disease disproportionately affects Maori and Pacific children and is associated with access to primary care, social deprivation and crowded living conditions.


From April to July this year, 2150 eligible children and household members were swabbed by 156 swabbing services.  Of those, 437 had positive GAS results and received free antibiotic treatment. Find out where you can go for a FREE sore throat swab here.

Waikato DHB’s Maori Health Unit coordinates a healthy housing project – Whare Ora – which aims to assist families in making homes warmer, safer and healthier for high-risk children.

So far Whare Ora has completed 95 healthy homes assessments, provided 70 families with heaters, 39 with blankets for the winter and 29 with physical beds.

This programme is another strategy in preventing rheumatic fever.

While the campaign to reduce rheumatic fever in the Waikato is still in its early stages the intervention is hoped to see a reduction in numbers by July 2016.


Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says national rheumatic fever rates have dropped significantly.

“The Government is committed to making progress on issues that affect our vulnerable young people,” says Dr Coleman.

“It is great to see that rheumatic Fever rates have continued trending downward since 2013. The latest figures show a 24 per cent decrease in first episode rheumatic fever hospitalisations since 2012. This reflects the hard work being carried out in communities most at risk of rheumatic fever.

“The Government has invested more than $65 million on a range of initiatives in high incidence areas to prevent rheumatic fever.

“These initiatives are making a difference, but there is more work to be done towards reducing rheumatic fever by two thirds by June 2017, as well as ensuring gains we make now are sustainable.”

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