League player shares illness experience
More kids are learning to say "aah" as a campaign to fight rheumatic fever rolls out to more schools.
Otahuhu Intermediate is the latest school to receive free throat swabs for students as part of a nationwide government programme to reduce rates of rheumatic fever.
The programme kicked off at the school with a special assembly where former Warriors player Awen Guttenbeil spoke to students about his experiences with the illness.
Guttenbeil was nine when he got rheumatic fever and he spent the next 10 years taking medication.
"It was very scary at the time. No kid should go through it," he says.
"I was lucky I was able to get away with only a small murmur."
Rheumatic fever often starts with a sore throat, followed by sore or swollen joints, a skin rash, fever or stomach pain.
It can also cause long-term damage to the heart and can be life-threatening.
Community paediatrician Alison Leversha says there is no vaccine but the disease is totally preventable by identifying sore throats earlier.
"We have third-world rates of rheumatic fever in New Zealand," she says.
There were 171 people admitted to hospital for the first time with rheumatic fever in 2012.
Leversha says some factors contributing to these rates include overcrowded living conditions, not being able to access health care, not identifying sore throats and not taking antibiotics for the right length of time.
There are now 16 schools in the Auckland District Health Board area running the free throat-swabbing programme.
The Government has allocated $45 million to combat rheumatic fever and aims to reduce the incidence of the disease from 4.2 to 1.4 cases per 100,000 people by 2017.
Parents in Auckland with Maori or Pacific children aged 4 and above can also receive free checks for their children at sore throat clinics. Go to health.govt.nz/sorethroatclinics for a list of clinics.