What you need to know

  • Rheumatic fever is a serious illness that starts with a sore throat (strep throat).
  • If a strep throat isn't treated it can cause rheumatic fever.
  • Symptoms vary, but it’s important to take your child to the doctor if you think they may have strep throat. 
  • Māori and Pacific children are most at risk of developing rheumatic fever and should see a doctor in the first one to two days of any sore throat.
  • If your doctor has prescribed antibiotics for strep throat, make sure that your child finishes all the medication. 

Symptoms 

Rheumatic fever can damage your child’s heartYour child may also have any of the following symptoms: 

  • swelling and pain in the hips, knees, ankles, elbows, wrists 
  • rash on the skin 
  • fever
  • jerky movements. 

Most of these symptoms will go away, but if there is heart damage it may be permanent. Children who develop rheumatic heart disease will need penicillin injections every month for 10 years.

Prevention 

There are two key things you can do to prevent your child from developing rheumatic fever: 

  1. See your doctor early if your child has a sore throat. Your doctor will identify if the sore throat is caused by strep bacteria and provide treatment, if necessary.  
  2. Make sure your child finishes all the antibiotics if they have been prescribed for strep throat 

All children should see a doctor if they have a sore throat or symptoms that indicate they may not be well. 

In New Zealand, Māori and Pacific children have the greatest risk of developing complications like rheumatic fever from strep throat and should see a doctor in the first two days of any sore throat.

Rheumatic fever is more common in these areas of Aotearoa:

  • Northland 
  • Auckland region 
  • Waikato 
  • Bay of Plenty 
  • Rotorua 
  • Tairawhiti (Gisborne and its surrounding area)  
  • Porirua. 
Rheumatic fever

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