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.