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Screening for Rheumatic Heart Disease in Year 7 & 8 children

10 September 2012

Healthy Hearts Study – Screening for Rheumatic Heart Disease in Year 7 & 8 children in Porirua

The health of children is a major priority for this DHB, and by working with our colleagues at Starship Hospital, we’re making sure children in the Porirua area have the best opportunities for good health with initiatives like the Healthy Hearts Study. The Healthy Hearts Study is run by a team of medical professionals from Capital and Coast District Health Board and Starship Hospital, working together to help children who have developed rheumatic heart disease.

The group will be visiting eight Porirua schools between 23 October and 2 November 2012 to screen year 7 and year 8 students for rheumatic heart disease. Students will undergo a simple and painless heart ultrasound scan (ECHO) which will then be read by the Cardiology Team at Starship. All abnormal scans will then have free follow-up appointments at Wellington Regional Hospital.

Porirua has one of the highest rates of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease in New Zealand. This alarming statistic has influenced this team of health professionals to unite and conduct a study that identifies children living in the region who have rheumatic heart disease.

“Rheumatic fever is caused by a strep throat infection, and after you’ve had this type of sore throat the body reacts and causes inflammation and damage to the heart and joints,” says Dr Fiona Perelini, (Paediatric Fellow), “Sometimes children have no obvious signs and may not see their GP until the heart damage is severe. Each year 6-10 young people living in this region contract rheumatic fever, with a small number of these cases developing serious heart valve damage.”

The school throat swabbing programme in Porirua hopes to eradicate rheumatic fever in the future. Until then, early detection is the key to minimizing the serious effects of the disease.

While detection is key, the information collected during the study will also help decide whether all students in high risk areas should undergo ECHO screening once they reach year 7 or year 8.

Over the coming weeks health professionals will be visiting schools in the Porirua region to talk to students, parents and teachers about Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease. Parents and other members of the community will be encouraged to join these discussions.

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