Plan to eradicate rheumatic fever kicks off Tuesday, 13 August 2013

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A programme to eradicate a third world disease has kicked off in south Auckland today.

Glen Innes and Panmure Bridge primary are the first of 16 Auckland schools taking part in the Government's $45 million programme to cut the incidence of rheumatic fever by two-thirds by 2017.

Children will have their throats swabbed to check for strep throat (Group A streptococcus), the bacteria which can lead to the disease.

Around 160 children are diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever each year in New Zealand. Maori and Pacific children are between 47 to 60 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with it than anyone else.

Auckland DHB pediatrician Dr Alison Leversha said the programme would help children, parents and caregivers understand the risks of rheumatic fever.

"It's a very important programme for raising awareness for the importance of sore throats, and how we need to identify them early, to treat them effectively," she said.

Children who test positive for the disease will then be monitored and given monthly antibiotic injections for ten years to prevent them developing long-term heart valve damage.

"Rheumatic fever is very serious, as a significant proportion of those kiddies and young adults will develop heart disease," Dr Leversha said.

Nearly 150 New Zealand adults die from heart damage caused by rheumatic fever each year.