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Waikato sore throat clinics can prevent rheumatic fever

Untreated sore throats can lead to rheumatic fever and heart problems.

Waikato DHB is working with its communities to provide free Sore Throat Management (STM) services across Waikato.

Waikato children and young adults with sore throats can now access free and quick drop-in clinics at medical centres and general practices across Waikato, as well as through school based health services/clinics  at many lower decile secondary schools.

This service is available and free to all 4-19 year old Maori and Pacific children across the Waikato DHB district who are eligible and present with a sore throat.

This is part of a national campaign to prevent rheumatic fever in at-risk sections of the population.  Rheumatic fever can develop from untreated sore throats, and is a very serious illness that can cause heart damage.

Waikato District Health Board (DHB) has partnered with three primary health organisations (PHOs) and Midlands Community Pharmacy Group in its district to provide a coordinated response to the rheumatic fever prevention campaign.

Phase one of the Waikato campaign includes 51 general practices throughout the Waikato belonging to the Midlands Health Network as well as 14 school based health services in secondary schools.  Joining them through April will be ten general practices from Hauraki PHO and three general practices from National Hauora Coalition.

Sore throat clinics are now available across Waikato for eligible Maori and Pasifika children and young adults.

Sore throat clinics are now available across Waikato for eligible Maori and Pasifika children and young adults.

This approach means Waikato children and young adults will have easy access to a free sore throat service  from  their usual general practice and  also in some cases  from their local pharmacy, secondary school or laboratory

Phase two services, planned for May, will bring on board more than 30 pharmacies, PathLab and two after-hours medical clinics in Hamilton.

“The Government has invested more than $65 million to prevent rheumatic fever. A range of initiatives are making a difference, but there is more work to be done,” says health minister Dr Jonathan Coleman.

“Targeted drop-in clinics in general practices, secondary schools and pharmacies offer easy access to free effective care for high risk children and young adults.

“There are now 202 drop-in clinics in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Rotorua, Gisborne/East Coast, Porirua and the Hutt Valley. More drop-in clinics will also be opening in the coming months in Hawke’s Bay.

Jonathan Coleman

Jonathan Coleman

“This will mean that more than 200,000 young people in high-risk areas will have access to prompt assessment and treatment for sore throats.”

More than 14,800 children most at risk of developing rheumatic fever have had their sore throat checked at a drop-in clinic in the past year.

This is in addition to the children being assessed and treated through the school-based programme which operates in over 200 North Island schools.

The latest figures on rheumatic fever released in February show a 14 per cent decrease in first episode rheumatic fever hospitalisations since the target was introduced in 2012.

The facts about sore throats and rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever is a serious but preventable illness. It mainly affects Māori and Pacific children and young people (aged 4 to 19 years). Rheumatic fever can start with a sore throat caused by a ‘strep throat’ – a bacterial infection called Group A Streptococcus (GAS). If the ‘strep throat’ is not treated it may lead to Rheumatic Fever.

Usually, strep throat gets better on its own. But in some people an autoimmune response (where the body attacks its own tissues) is caused and the heart, joints (ankles, wrists, knees, elbows), brain and skin can become inflamed and swollen.  If a child or young person gets rheumatic fever they become very unwell, causing them to have severe tiredness, breathlessness and low energy.

In some cases it can lead to serious heart problems causing rheumatic heart disease, where the heart valves become damaged and heart operations are needed.

In New Zealand, 92 per cent of all cases of rheumatic fever affect Māori and Pacific Island children.

The areas with the highest incidence of rheumatic fever are Northland, Auckland (Counties-Manukau and Waitemata), Waikato, Tairawhiti, Bay of Plenty, Lakes, Hawkes Bay and Wellington (Hutt Valley and East Porirua). There are relatively few cases in the South Island.

Rheumatic fever is linked to poor housing conditions, overcrowding, and lack of treatment of ‘strep throat’ caused by the Group A Streptococcus (GAS) throat infection.

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