A FOUR-YEAR old was the youngest patient to die from rheumatic heart disease.
This was confirmed by CWM Hospital's head of pediatrics and consultant Dr Joseph Kado.
Dr Kado said in their review of patients, cross referenced with the Ministry of Health death certificate system and patient information system they found that an excess of between 60-80 patients died every year from 2008 to 2012.
"Of those who died, the medium age is in the 40s but the average age is in the 30s so they die young," Dr Kado said.
"If they wait until they actually have shortness of breath to present, by the time they present to us and within a month of presentation 10 per cent of those patients will die.
"Every year about one in 20 people living with RHD will die, so 5 per cent will die each year."
He said it was harder to detect RHD in young children because of communication barriers.
"They can't tell their parents they have sore throat and when they actually do become ill it's because they have developed the complication of rheumatic fever.
"And the problem is every time they get another episode of rheumatic fever, which is the body mistaking its own heart valves, the joints, brains, skin tissues as being foreign, then they have an over response so it actually damages the heart valves more," said Dr Kado.