Published Tuesday 1 Sep 2020

This year has seen an increase in cases of rheumatic fever in the greater Wellington region. Of the nine cases notified this year to Regional Public Health (RPH) this year, seven are children aged under 15 years.

Rheumatic fever is a preventable disease that can have lasting effects. It can lead to serious heart damage that requires ongoing treatment, and even heart surgery. Maori and Pasifika children and young people are at the greatest risk of getting rheumatic fever. 

Rheumatic fever develops as a complication of a bacterial infection, usually a throat infection but some researchers think that it can also be caused by skin infections. The sore throat may not be very severe, “that’s what makes rheumatic fever rather tricky. For many people the sore throat is not particularly alarming, so people may hold-off before seeking treatment,” said Dr Craig Thornley, Clinical Head of Department at RPH.

“There are a number of pharmacies and medical centres in Lower Hutt and Porirua who offer free sore throat checks, we’d like to remind people in our community to not wait to get sore throats checked,” said Dr Thornley.

Cold, damp or crowded homes can increase the risk of rheumatic fever and other illnesses. As part of a broader response, Regional Public Health is part of the Wellington Regional Healthy Housing Group. The goal of the group is to ensure housing in the Wellington region is warm, dry, safe and healthy for all by 2025.

“This is a really important goal. There is a wide range of health benefits that stem from people having equitable access to warm, dry and safe housing,” said Kiri Waldegrave, Policy team leader at RPH. “Through better housing we will see a reduction in these preventable illnesses like rheumatic fever.”

A list of pharmacies and medical centres offering free throat checks can be viewed on RPH’s website:

In addition, RPH also runs the Well Homes service that supports whānau through a range of services to live in warm, dry homes. More information on Well Homes is available on their website: