Rheumatic fever is a serious but preventable illness. It mainly affects Māori and Pacific children and young people (aged four and older), especially if they have other family members who have had rheumatic fever.

Sore throats need checking

Rheumatic fever starts with a sore throat that is known as ‘strep throat’ – a throat infection caused by a bacteria called Group A Streptococcus.

Most sore throats get better on their own, but if strep throat is not treated with antibiotics it can cause rheumatic fever in at-risk children. Because rheumatic fever is such a serious illness, all sore throats in Māori and Pacific children and young people (aged 4 and above) need to be checked.

Effects of rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever makes the heart, joints (elbows and knees), brain and skin swollen and painful.

Rheumatic fever is an ‘autoimmune disease’, which means there is a problem with the immune system (the cells and organs that protect the body against illnesses and infections).

Rheumatic fever happens when your child’s immune system makes a mistake and attacks your child’s heart instead of the germs from an illness.

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. Rheumatic heart disease can be life threatening.

If your child has rheumatic fever

If your child develops rheumatic fever they will need a lot of bed rest and time off school. They’ll need to stay in hospital for weeks, where they will have examinations and blood tests to check their condition.

Rheumatic fever can affect your child’s life, making it more difficult for them to play sport or do other activities as they will have less energy.

Rheumatic heart disease

If your child has more attacks of rheumatic fever then they may develop rheumatic heart disease. This can cause serious heart problems, damaging your child’s heart forever. Your child may need heart surgery.