Background: Acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) are responsible for a significant disease burden amongst Maori and Pacific populations in New Zealand (NZ). However, contemporary data are lacking regarding circulating group A Streptococcal (GAS) strains in NZ. Such information is important in guiding vaccine development.
Methods: GAS isolates from April to June 2015 were recovered from skin and pharyngeal samples from children living in areas of high social deprivation in Auckland, NZ, a significant proportion of which are Maori or Pacific. These children are among the highest risk group for developing ARF. Isolates were compared to concurrently collected pharyngeal isolates from Dunedin, NZ, where both the proportion of Maori and Pacific children and risk of developing ARF is low. Emm typing, emm cluster typing and theoretical coverage of the 30-valent vaccine candidate were undertaken as previously described.
Results: A high diversity of emm types and a high proportion of emm-pattern D and cluster D4 isolates were detected amongst both skin and pharyngeal isolates in children at high risk of ARF. Pharyngeal isolates from children at low risk of ARF within the same country were significantly less diverse, less likely to be emm pattern D, and more likely to be theoretically covered by the 30-valent M protein vaccine.
Conclusions: The high proportion of emm pattern D GAS strains amongst skin and pharyngeal isolates from children at high risk of ARF raises further questions about the role of skin infection in ARF pathogenesis. Emm types and emm clusters differed considerably between ARF endemic and non-endemic settings, even within the same country. This difference should be taken into account for vaccine development.