PINE’s Story: Rheumatic Fever: NOT JUST a sore throat.

Pine has a heart condition that was caused by a throat infection when he was a child living in Wairoa.

After reacting to a Group A streptococcal throat infection (commonly known as strep throat), Pine’s Mitral valve located in his heart was damaged as his own immune system reacted to the infection.

This is the Acute auto immune reaction we know as rheumatic fever which affects about 150 to 200 New Zealanders every year and can leave the person who has had Rheumatic fever with the permanent long term condition called Rheumatic Heart disease. Rheumatic Heard Disease kills about 145 New Zealanders every year.



Strep Throat → Rheumatic Fever → Rheumatic Heart Disease → Poor Health or Death

Rheumatic Fever can be undetectable

The unusual thing about Pine’s strep throat infection is that neither he nor his family knew that he had it. It was actually Pine’s brother that had been diagnosed with a strep throat infection and was treated with antibiotics. Pine’s infection was silent. He didn’t have any symptoms that were obvious. No sore throat, no temperature, nothing out of the ordinary, so no-one thought to check if Pine needed antibiotics or treatment.

What we now know is that strep. bacteria can trigger a rheumatic fever reaction in those infected by it and not everyone who gets rheumatic fever has symptoms of a sore strep throat prior to having this autoimmune reaction. The most at risk are young people between the ages of 4 and 14 years of age and Maori and Pacific island children are more likely to get Rheumatic fever. There is no genetic link to rheumatic fever but it is thought to be more associated with living in poor housing conditions. It is more common in the North Island regions of New Zealand. If a child is living in close contact with someone who gets a strep throat, like Pine and his brother’s situation, there is a greater chance of that child getting Rheumatic fever.

How did Pine find out he had rheumatic fever?

Pine in at Hillcrest Pharmacy

Pine was 44 years old when he discovered that he had damage to his heart. He had grown up playing Rugby, swimming and running and would push himself hard. When he was doing intense exercise he thought it was normal to taste blood in his mouth and to be breathless and for his heart to miss beats. He would push through the discomfort. On a night in 2006 Pine’s heart was missing beats and he was feeling lightheaded and dizzy. Pine had had these symptoms before but usually they went away. This time they didn’t stop and Pine went to bed with his heart in Atrial Fibrillation (AF). The next day Pine drove his Kuia to Raglan and on the Waikato expressway he suffered a stroke. It wasn’t until the cardiac specialists started to look at his heart and study his history they realised that Pine was a Victim of Rheumatic Fever.

Unfortunately, the damage has been done to Pine’s heart valve and Pine now requires regular treatment with a blood thinning medicine to prevent any more strokes associated with his heart damage. The blood thinning medicine he takes requires regular blood tests to make sure that it is keeping the blood thin enough to prevent blood clots. Pine keeps himself extremely fit with daily exercise, however the Rheumatic heart disease and the medicine he is on prevents him from participating in the more intense exercise or sporting activities that he once enjoyed.

Take every sore throat seriously

It is NOT “JUST A SORE THROAT”. Get your children’s sore throats swabbed at the pharmacy or doctor’s clinic. If you are diagnosed with a strep throat make sure that the people, particularly children, who you are in every day contact with get their throat swabbed as well. A free throat swab can be provided from a pharmacy to anyone who is 4 to 35 years old and is a close contact of a person diagnosed with Strep throat.

Free Swabs for Children

The team at Hillcrest Pharmacy can swab your 4 to 18 year old children’s throats for strep infection free of charge and if a diagnosis of Strep throat is confirmed we can dispense the appropriate antibiotics to treat that infection under the direction of our local Public Health Officer.

Strep Throat → Pharmacy Throat Swab → Antibiotics → Healthier Life


Thanks Pine for sharing your story and working with us at Remadee in building a Stronger, Healthier Community. If you have just read Pine’s story share it with as many people as you can.


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Reference Data Source: http://www.bpac.org.nz/BPJ/2011/august/docs/bpj_37_rheumatic_fever_pages_22-33.pdf