Rheumatic fever

Rheumatic Fever 

Final National Rheumatic Fever Awareness Campaign - Focus in Auckland 

HPA is working with the Ministry of Health to raise awareness of rheumatic fever and its link to sore throats, particularly in priority populations.

The aim of the 2017 Rheumatic Fever Awareness Campaign is to increase awareness among Māori and Pacific parents and caregivers of high-risk children and young people about the importance of getting sore throats checked as quickly as possible. If a child or young person is given antibiotics, it’s important they take them for the whole 10 days, even if they feel better, to stop the sore throat turning into rheumatic fever.

Although the campaign continues to focus on 11 regions in the North Island with a high-incidence of rheumatic fever, this year’s campaign has an increased Auckland focus, as more than half the country’s rheumatic fever cases are in Auckland. The Auckland activity will utilise local media channels, Pacific and iwi radio stations and social media.

Campaign details

In the news

Half of New Zealand's rheumatic fever cases in Auckland 

February 2017 – Health Minister Jonathan Coleman kicks off this year’s rheumatic fever awareness campaign with a focus on reducing cases in Auckland. The Auckland focus is an opportunity to make an impact where most of the affected population resides. 


Progress has been made towards the Better Public Services target of reducing the incidence of rheumatic fever by two thirds, to 1.4 cases per 100,000 by June 2017. The latest data represents a 23% decrease from the baseline (2009/10 to 2011/12) rate of 4.0 per 100, 000. Further information on the Better Public Services rheumatic fever target can be found here

The 2017 Rheumatic Fever Awareness Campaign will build on the momentum of the previous three national campaigns, with a continued focus on:  

  • the link between sore throats and rheumatic fever and the importance of having sore throats in at-risk children checked quickly by a health professional
  • the importance of completing the full antibiotic course for children and young people who have Group A streptococcal throat infection
  • what families of high-risk children can do in their homes to stop their children from getting rheumatic fever.

What is 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 achild 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.

Who does it affect?

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

The areas with the highest incidence of rheumatic fever are Northland, Auckland, Waitematā, Counties-Manukau, Waikato, Tairāwhiti, Bay of Plenty, Lakes, Hawke's Bay, Hutt Valley and Capital and Coast DHB regions. 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.

Living with rheumatic fever

A mother's story - how rheumatic fever impacted her family. The McQueen family featured in the 2015 Rheumatic Fever Awareness Campaign. Mum, Paula McQueen talks about their experience.

Key partners

  • The Ministry of Health
  • DHBs
  • Community health providers


Campaign resources 

Read the Minister’s press release

View the Updated rheumatic fever data

Read Allen + Clarke's 2015 evaluation

Learn more about rheumatic fever and the work the Ministry of Health undertakes in this area

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