Schools take sore throats seriously

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 05:00 06/06/2012
Mikayla Metuariki and Dianne Murdoch
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

HEALTH CHECK: Public health nurse Dianne Murdoch swabs the throat of Mikayla Metuariki, 7, at Cannons Creek School as part of a $24 million programme in schools to eradicate rheumatic fever in New Zealand.

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A new scheme in schools to detect and treat sore throats that cause rheumatic fever is proving successful in Porirua East.

The low-income area is one of several hot spots targeted by a $24 million Government campaign to eradicate the Third World disease.

School nurses started carrying out throat swabs at nine schools in Porirua East at the beginning of last month.

So far 30 children have been treated for streptococcal throat infections – most of which would have gone undetected.

Left untreated, a streptococcal infection can progress to rheumatic fever, which can lead to heart damage.

Public health nurse Dianne Murdoch spends two days a week at Cannons Creek School taking swabs and making sure children with infections complete a 10-day course of antibiotics.

"To be successful, it will have to go on for some time to eradicate rheumatic fever from the Porirua area. It's getting the message out there as well. Hopefully once we've done this, parents will know they need to take their kids to the doctor for a sore throat," she said.

Porirua East has some of the highest rates of rheumatic fever, linked with social deprivation and poor housing conditions.

Three more schools will be included next month, bringing the number of Porirua children in the programme to 2076.

Teachers identify pupils with sore throats and send them to the public health nurse. Compass Health provides follow-up care.

Funding has been guaranteed for 17 months, but this could be extended, Regional Public Health Porirua-Kapiti school health and immunisation group team leader Brenda Little said.

The throat swabbing campaign would treat the "tip of the iceberg", but other contributing factors such as overcrowded houses needed to be dealt with, she said.

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said last month that the Government would spend $24m over five years to target 35,000 children in seven regions, including Hawke's Bay and Gisborne.

"Maori and Pacific people, mostly children, living in cold overcrowded homes are ... 20 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with first-time acute rheumatic fever than anyone else."

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