The number of rheumatic fever cases in Northland has dropped by two-thirds and health experts say it is the result of education and various initiatives aimed at tackling the disease.

Latest Ministry of Health statistics show admissions to Northland hospitals for first-time episodes of rheumatic fever dropped from 15 in 2014 to five cases last year, one of which has not been confirmed.

Linda Makiha is part of the Ngati Hine Health Trust Team which runs a throat-swabbing programme in 10 schools across the region.

"When I first started [throat swabbing in schools] we really had to go around looking for students with sore throats. Now they are coming to us when they have sore throats because they know it can lead to rheumatic fever.


"They go home and tell their parents. They know where it comes from, a lot of them are really aware. It's awesome," she said.

Rheumatic fever is caused by a group A streptococcal infection such as a sore throat.

In 2014 Northland had the third-highest rate of rheutmatic fever in the country, with nine cases for every 100,000 people. Last year the region had the fourth highest rate with only three cases for every 100,000 people.

Jeanette Wedding, Northland District Health Board general manager for child, youth maternal, public and oral health services, said the decrease in cases could be attributed to health providers working together to promote the message that sore throats matter.

"Our goal is to have no cases of rheumatic fever in Northland, and while we are on our way to achieving this we will not stop until it has been eradicated," she said.

Ms Wedding said there was a range of programmes aimed at eliminating rheumatic fever cases in Northland. Some of those included a school throat-swabbing programme and free throat-swabbing at selected pharmacies, as well as advertising.

Ms Makiha said the Ngati Hine Health Trust's throat-swabbing programme meant they were able to identify strep throat in children who may not have visited the doctor's clinic otherwise.

Manaia PHO health promotion manager Ngaire Rae said Manaia PHO's Manawa Ora Healthy Homes Rheumatic Prevention Programme was designed to tackle rheumatic fever early.

The programme supports whanau to create healthier homes.