In Australia, the vast majority of people with acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease are Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, many of whom live in remote areas of central and northern Australia. Pacific Islanders, and migrants from high-prevalence countries, are also at high risk.
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Acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease is a notifiable condition in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland. For more information contact the control program in your jurisdiction.
What is Acute rheumatic fever?
Acute rheumatic fever (ARF) is an illness caused by a reaction to a bacterial infection with group A streptococcus (GAS). It causes an acute, generalised inflammatory response and an illness that targets specific parts of the body, including the heart, joints, brain and skin. Individuals with ARF are often unwell, have significant joint pain and require hospitalisation. Despite the dramatic nature of the acute episode, ARF typically leaves no lasting damage to the brain, joints or skin, but can cause persisting heart damage, termed ‘rheumatic heart disease’ (RHD).
What is Rheumatic heart disease?
Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is damage to the heart that remains after the acute ARF episode has resolved. It is caused by an episode or recurrent episodes of ARF, where the heart has become inflamed; the heart valves remain stretched and/or scarred, and normal blood flow is interrupted. Recurrences of ARF may cause further valve damage, leading to steady worsening of RHD. Preventing recurrences of ARF by using secondary prophylaxis treatment with penicillin is therefore of great importance.