Nurses have found higher rates than expected of streptococcal throat infections in a mass South Auckland programme aimed at cutting the high rates of rheumatic fever in the region.
Mana Kidz is a nurse-led, school-based programme providing free health care to 23,000 children across 53 primary and intermediate schools in Otara, Mangere and Manurewa.
Eight more schools in Papakura are to join in Term 4.
Children are asked every day if they have a sore throat; if they present with strep throat symptoms they're swabbed. If the results come back positive a support worker drops off a course of antibiotics to the home.
A follow-up includes education around healthy practice at home.
In the past year 30,154 swabs have been taken from 20,736 children. Nearly 22 per cent, 4532, were treated for strep throat.
Researchers such as Auckland University paediatric professor Diana Lennon have called the country's rates of rheumatic fever "outrageous", given that most Western countries have stamped out the disease.
The National Hauora Coalition has been the lead agency for Mana Kidz. Spokesman Dr David Jansen said health professionals had expected a strep throat rate of about 13 per cent based on previous research. To exceed that level was a concern.
"We just have to deal with it. For me it reinforces the intention of this programme because there is that much strep throat out there. We have got to do something about it."
Because overcrowding is a major factor in strep-throat contraction the coalition is also looking to grow the programme so that housing needs are addressed by Whanau Ora workers or Housing New Zealand.
Nurse Lynn Vasquez, 27, works at East Tamaki and Dawson Road Primary Schools. Her work also includes treatment for serious skin infections such as scabies - which have been eradicated from her schools - boils, infected eczema, cellulitis and school sores. Across the region 2404 children have been treated for skin conditions.
"Overcrowding is a massive, massive issue," she says.
While it exists she'll be spreading the message about medical treatment.
"They will come back and I can give you my word I will be on to it. I tend to empower the family members. I say, if you start itching again you know where to find me. Education is a massive thing."
The Government announced $21.3 million over four years in the Budget to cut the incidence of rheumatic fever by two-thirds by 2017.
From throats to hearts
* Rheumatic fever can result from untreated streptococcal throat infection.
* Can damage heart valves and shorten lives by a decade.
* Maori and Pacific children worst-affected groups. Overcrowding is a factor.
* In 2012 there were 179 cases across the country, 140 of those in Auckland.
* Mana Kidz swabbing programme: 22% of 20,736 treated for strep throat infection.
Sources: Mana Kidz, Public Health Surveillance ESR