Rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever is a serious but preventable illness. It can make children very sick and may cause damage to the heart. This can mean a lifetime of feeling breathless and tired. Rheumatic fever may also shorten someone’s life.

Rheumatic fever rates are particularly high among Māori and Pacific children, especially those aged 4–19 years. 

If your child has a sore throat for more than a few days, see your doctor or call Healthline on 0800 611 116.

All sore throats in Māori and Pacific children and young people should be checked by a health professional.

Rheumatic fever usually starts with a sore throat that is known as ‘strep throat’. This sore throat can be treated with antibiotics so it doesn’t go on to become rheumatic fever. Strep throat is spread by sneezing and coughing.

If your child has strep throat, it is important that they:

  • cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • wash their hands with soap and dry them after coughing or sneezing
  • don’t share water bottles, drinking cups or toothbrushes
  • take the antibiotics they have been given
Strep throat

Rheumatic fever usually starts one-to-five weeks after your child has had strep throat.

Symptoms of strep throat can include:

  • a painful or scratchy throat, especially when you swallow
  • difficulty swallowing
  • redness at the back of your mouth
  • fever
  • bad breath
  • the glands in your neck are swollen
  • your tonsils are large and covered in white stuff
  • headache
  • stomach pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sometimes, you may also have a skin rash along with fever and sore throat, this condition is known as scarlet fever.


Rheumatic fever

Without treatment strep throat can lead to rheumatic fever. Symptoms of rheumatic fever can include:

  • breathlessness
  • severe tiredness
  • sore or swollen joints
  • a skin rash
  • a fever
  • jerky movements


See your doctor if you or someone in your family or whānau has a sore throat for more than a few days. All sore throats in Māori and Pacific children and young people (aged four to 19 years old) need to be checked.

If your child has strep throat, they’ll be given oral antibiotics or a penicillin injection to clear up the infection.

If your child develops rheumatic fever they will need a lot of bed rest and time off school. They’ll need to stay in hospital for weeks, where they will have examinations and blood tests to check their condition.

Rheumatic fever is a notifiable disease. This means that health professionals or laboratories will inform us when someone has it. Our nurses can then identify and speak to the people you have been in close contact with. Depending on where and when you were in contact with them, they may be offered prophylactic (preventative) antibiotics and/or health advice. We also monitor case numbers across the Northern region.


There are specific requirements for notifiable diseases in the Auckland region.

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Link: https://aucklandregion. healthpathways. org. nz/index. htm?71987. htm?zoom_highlight=rheumatic+f


Last updated 23.11.2022

For health advice call Healthline for free anytime on 0800 611 116
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