Cases of the incurable and costly childhood disease rheumatic fever in Hastings are at nearly 18 times the national average – and All Black Israel Dagg has been drafted in to help get that statistic down.
Hastings GP Liffey Rimmer said that the "third-world disease" was rife in New Zealand when it had been eradicated in other first- world countries was an indictment on society's acceptance of unequal access to health care.
This week, Hawke's Bay District Health Board and Maori health provider Te Taiwhenua O Heretaunga kicked off a campaign to get children suffering from the underlying cause of the disease to a doctor. It was being fronted by Hawke's Bay's rugby team the Magpies – including Dagg – and concentrated on the poor suburb of Flaxmere, where all the past year's cases originated.
The national average was 1.8 cases per 10,000 under 14-year-olds a year, but Flaxmere's seven cases equated to 32 per 10,000.
Rheumatic fever starts from a sore throat caused by a streptococcus A infection. The infection was easily treated with a course of antibiotics, but unchecked could develop into rheumatic fever, attacking joints and heart valves.
The "Say Aah" campaign aimed to get parental permission for all Flaxmere school children to be throat-swabbed at school next term.
Dr Rimmer said she expected 5 per cent to 10 per cent of Flaxmere's population to test positive to a strep throat.
About half of those who developed rheumatic fever would suffer heart valve damage, possibly needing replacement heart valves.
Though the number of cases was small compared to some diseases, the consequences were very damaging to health and required expensive treatment, she said
"Left unchecked, patients need weeks of bed rest in hospital and at least a decade of antibiotic treatment. Heart valve replacement, just the surgery, costs tens of thousands of dollars."
Rheumatic fever was incurable, Dr Rimmer said.
"The ongoing antibiotic treatment only prevents further streptococcus A infections. If people who have rheumatic fever get a strep infection again, the chance of heart valve damage goes up exponentially."
There was no doubt rheumatic fever was poverty related. "It is a third-world disease, a disease of overcrowding, inadequate housing and poor healthcare access."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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