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Free service aims to stop rheumatic fever

Misty-Blue, 13, from North Waikato had a sore throat which developed into rheumatic fever two years ago.

Living with chronic heart damage is not something many of us associate with children but for many children in the Waikato this is still the case.

Rheumatic fever is caused by group A streptococcus – a simple throat infection. If not treated approximately 3 per cent of strep patients could develop rheumatic fever which can lead to irreversible damage to the heart valves. In the Waikato the disease disproportionately affects Maori and Pacific children and is associated with social deprivation and poor living conditions.

But North Waikato has a plan. This winter local schools, pharmacies and health providers have joined together to fight rheumatic fever as part of the national push to end the disease.

Raukura Hauora o Tainui rheumatic fever prevention coordinator Melissa Epiha with Lyn King of Waikato DHB’s Population Health have spearheaded the winter campaign with a hope to reduce the number of cases found in Huntly and Ngaruawahia.

This logo is in the window of every place sore throat swabs are available.

This logo is in the window of every place sore throat swabs are available.

“It’s about raising the awareness and education of rheumatic fever in the home, school and community and providing the support for whanau to access free services that can swab a sore throat – anytime and anywhere,” said Melissa.

Misty-Blue, 13, from Huntly was diagnosed with rheumatic fever when she was 11. For her and her family, the experience of spending months in hospital and now going through the ongoing treatment has completely changed the course of her young life. As a result, Misty-Blue wants others in her community to be aware of what a simple sore throat can lead to. She will be the local face of the community campaign and share her story with peers and families in the area.

Misty’s story is really about acknowledging the core of the campaign, said Melissa.

“Our focus is addressing a community problem with a community solution.  A strong community sense of belonging and pride is a key factor in having a successful campaign.”

The collaborative approach is about promoting awareness of rheumatic fever and the importance of getting a sore throat swabbed every time. The campaign will use several strategies including media, school newsletters, posters and community events.

In addition 13 schools that are on the rheumatic fever prevention programme will be provided with teaching units which will enable teachers to talk every student who attends that school during these winter months when colds and coughing are prevalent.

The Waikato has some of the highest rates of rheumatic fever in the country and data shows that between 2004 to 2012 a quarter of the new cases diagnosed in the DHB catchment came from Waikato District Council’s catchment which encompasses Huntly and Ngaruawahia.

New Zealand has 160 cases a year, with the cost of hospital admissions for rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease totalling $12 million a year.

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