$10m for vaccine to prevent rheumatic fever

Ayesha Verrall. Photo: RNZ
Ayesha Verrall. Photo: RNZ
The Government will help fund University of Auckland research for a strep throat vaccine, in hopes it will prevent rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall this morning announced that the Government would put $10 million towards the research, which would complement work already under way in Australia.

Rheumatic fever is an auto-immune disease triggered by a Strep A infection, which often but not always leads to a sore throat, and can progress to fever, joint pain and damage to the heart or other organs.

About 600 to 800 people are admitted to hospital each year with underlying rheumatic heart disease, and 150 to 200 die. People with the rheumatic fever need antibiotic injections for at least 10 years to prevent it returning.

"Because New Zealand and Australia are among the few developed countries to still have rheumatic fever, it makes sense for us to collaborate to develop a vaccine," Dr Verrall said in a statement.

She said funding would also support enhanced surveillance of Group A streptococcus, laboratory testing infrastructure, and support for rolling out clinical trials across the country.

Māori and Pacific children have the highest rates of rheumatic fever, which has in recent years spiked in the Wellington region.

There are also fears the disease is more widespread than official figures show, and while it is thought of as a children's disease, a 2019 Northland tally found several cases in their 20s.

There have also been calls for a national register of cases to keep track of the true scale of the problem.


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