18 Mar 2015

Hopes for a rheumatic fever vaccine

7:17 am on 18 March 2015

Clinicians say they might have a rheumatic fever vaccine in late-stage trials in three years time.

Maori and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately at risk from the disease, which is caused by what is known as a Strep A bug that can lead to heart damage.

Professor John Fraser from the Australian Society for Infectious Diseases will today tell a meeting in Auckland that the vaccine would be a 'real game changer'.

The society said scientists have been trying to develop a vaccine for eighty years.

But Professor Fraser said he was the most confident he had ever been that a medical solution is within reach.

He said that was partly thanks to a new initiative funded by the New Zealand and Australian governments.

Professor Fraser said the backing for the Coalition to Advance New Vaccines for Group A Streptococcus (CANVAS) was finally making progress.

Damp housing, poverty and a lack of access to medical care are associated underlying causes of rheumatic fever.

A Northland doctor, meanwhile, said the prospect of a new vaccine against the bacteria that causes rheumatic fever, could bring relief from what is a serious problem in the Far North.

Lance O'Sullivan, who has a practice in Kaitaia, said the Northland region is a hotspot for rheumatic fever, where the equivalent of a classroom of children, or 35 people, were suffering from it now.