A Kaitaia GP wants doctors and whanau to be more vigilant when treating children with sore throats.
Six hundred Far North children are being tested this week for respiratory illness, to see how many have heart damage caused by rheumatic fever.
Dr Lance O'Sullivan of Ngati Maru says similar scanning programmes in South Auckland and Kawerau had picked up a high rate of previously undiagnosed rheumatic heart disease among Maori.
He told Waatea News that that can happen when strep throat turns into rheumatic fever, but that many overseas-trained doctors may not have seen a case and won't think of it.
Dr O'Sullivan says whanau need to push their doctor or nurse to check their children for strep throat even if they think it's only a cold or a virus.
Early deaths could be prevented
Northland paediatrician Roger Tuck said that if more Maori knew about a link between sore throats and heart damage, many could be saved from an early death.
Dr Tuck says the illness is triggered by throat infections and Maori are especially susceptible.
He says a throat-swabbing programme in Kaeo schools has eliminated rheumatic fever there and Kaitaia could do the same if enough people are in support.