The New Zealand-based researcher behind the development of a vaccine that could prevent rheumatic fever says it could change the way the disease is treated within five years.
Last year, New Zealand recorded 216 cases of rheumatic fever - the highest in 20 years and this year is on track to have an even higher number of cases, according to ESR Surveillance Reports.
Rheumatic fever is most prevalent in Maori and Pacific children and teenagers, aged between 4 and 19, and is linked to poverty and overcrowding.
The University of Auckland has signed a contract to work jointly with an Australian team to fast-track the development of a preventive vaccine against Group A Streptococcus infection, which can cause the potentially deadly rheumatic fever and lead to long-term heart damage known as rheumatic heart disease.
The New Zealand and Australian governments announced in February last year that they would contribute $1.5 million each towards the 18-month research project called CANVAS (the Coalition to Advance New Vaccines for Group A Streptococcus).
University of Auckland faculty of health and sciences dean Professor John Fraser, who is leading the research in New Zealand, said if successful, the vaccine could change the way rheumatic fever is treated.
"Instead of $30,000 plus for heart surgery, it will be a few dollars for a vaccination with a significant and measurable reduction in personal, community and national health costs," he said.
The Auckland-based team will work with an Australian team led by Professor Jonathan Carapetis, who is the director of the Telethon Institute in Perth, to analyse and evaluate three vaccines already being developed overseas.
Mr Fraser said the first part of the research would look at whether any of the vaccines would cover all the different strands that existed in Australia and New Zealand and, if one was successful, clinical trials could start within 18 months.
However it would be at least five years until the vaccine was licensed for use.
What is rheumatic fever?
*An illness that starts with a streptococcal infection.
*Can develop into other symptoms such as sore or swollen joints.
*Can cause long-term heart damage, known as rheumatic heart disease.
*Most prevalent in Maori and Pacific children and teenagers, aged between 4 and 19 in New Zealand.
*Can be linked to poverty and overcrowding.
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