Samoan medical student and researcher committed to raising awareness about Rheumatic Fever
Updates / Community, 19 Sep 23
From a young age, Taliah Su'a, a New Zealand-born Samoan medical student, has been passionately committed to raising awareness about rheumatic fever, investing a significant amount of her time researching the impacts and implications of the illness.

Su'a's research journey is a deeply personal one, as her aunt was diagnosed with rheumatic fever during her childhood and underwent heart surgery to replace her heart valves as a result. 

“After that frightening experience, our mother was really vigilant about any symptoms that related to rheumatic fever and always ensured that doctors would take throat swab samples from us and prescribe antibiotics.”  

“Since I was a young person I have always been aware of rheumatic fever and the importance of getting sore throats checked out.” 

Pacific individuals currently have the highest incidence of rheumatic fever in the country, with Māori close behind. For Su'a, the presence of Pacific representation in our healthcare and medical workforce is crucial and an essential component in achieving favourable health outcomes. 

“In order to develop research with meaningful outcomes that benefit the Pacific community, we need researchers who are not only committed to achieving this, but also providing a unique understanding of the ways and values of Pacific people,” shares Su’a. 

For Su'a, advocating for yourself and family members is important when it comes to ensuring that the right care is provided for people and their aiga (family). She has shared some advice. 

“All Pacific aged from 3 to 35 years, especially adolescents, need to be getting their sore throat checked. They need to swab your throat and start antibiotics straight away.” 

“By swabbing your throat we can find out if there is a bacteria that is causing the pain and discomfort. The bacteria we are looking for that causes rheumatic fever is called group A streptococcus. If the swab is negative for this bug, then your Doctor should call you and let you know you can stop the antibiotics. If it is positive, it is important that you finish the full 10 days of antibiotics you were started on.” 

Some of the symptoms to look out for when it comes to rheumatic fever are complicated, however, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the illness to protect you and your family. 

“Rheumatic fever is quite a complex illness and can look different in everyone, but it most commonly affects the joints and heart.” 

“When it affects your joints you may experience pain, swelling, redness or reduced movement. If rheumatic fever starts to affect your heart, it may cause chest pain, a racing heart or difficulty breathing (reduced exercise tolerance). The inflammation in the heart though may only be identifiable through an ultrasound scan.” 

“Less common symptoms of rheumatic fever are subcutaneous nodules which are small lumps under the skin that are usually painless and found over the joints and a particular kind of rash that often comes and goes." 

Su'a is currently based at Etu Pasifika Canterbury as a Health Care Assistant and is really thankful for the support shown during her time as a researcher.  

"I have learnt and continue to learn a great deal from the team at Etu Pasifika which I am grateful for.” 

“They have also supported me with my studies by getting me into home visits for interviews, providing supermarket vouchers to be able to thank those who have participated in my study as well as providing advice throughout my time.” 

“Members of our team at Etu will also be involved in my formal analysis of the interviews where we will look for themes in the work and identify ways in which we can improve how we look after our whānau affected by rheumatic fever." 

If ever in doubt, get checked regardless and book an appointment with your local general practice. Healthline are also able to be phoned 24 hours a day and night on 0800 611 116.