Rheumatic fever risk seen as low

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 11:02 16/05/2014

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A screening service to detect rheumatic fever in children will not be rolled out in Nelson Marlborough District Health Board region because it is not a high-risk area, the Heart Foundation has said.

Marlborough had three cases last year of the disease, which is linked to poverty and common in Third World countries.

But the $20 million rollout plan Prime Minister John Key announced yesterday, to fight rheumatic disease by throat-swabbing tens of thousands children, would target only areas with high numbers of sufferers.

Last year there were three cases in Marlborough and two in Nelson, up from no cases in 2012.

The disease is often more prevalent in Maori and Pasifika children, according to the Heart Foundation.

The board's medical officer of health, Dr Ed Kiddle, said the cases notified in Nelson-Marlborough would have been diagnosed elsewhere and treated at the DHB when people moved into the area.

"The South Island has very low numbers of rheumatic fever and most are found in people who developed the disease in other parts of the country and relocated. GPs in our district would have been treating people with a monthly regime of antibiotics, which is the standard treatment for the disease."

Heart Foundation Pacific health manager Louisa Ryan said rheumatic fever started with the symptoms of a common cold. Strep throat bacteria entered the bloodstream and if undetected it could cause rheumatic heart disease.

Symptoms included joint inflammation, a pink rash, weight loss, fatigue and stomach pains.

Ryan said those diagnosed often lived in overcrowded houses or their families could not access their GP.

"It is the disease of the poor. We shouldn't be seeing any rates in New Zealand . . . It is most common in Third World countries but we have extremely high rates in New Zealand.

"It is acknowledged there is the occasional child with rheumatic fever in Marlborough but it is not high enough to create a whole service around one or two children."

A Heart Foundation awareness programme encourages families who notice their children have had a fever or sore throat for more than two days to visit their GP.

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- The Marlborough Express

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