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Rheumatic Heart Disease Australia

RHD Resouces

Seminar in Darwin tonight to reduce world’s highest recorded rate of rheumatic heart disease

A seminar will be held in Darwin tonight to reduce one of the world's highest recorded rates of rheumatic heart disease, most common in 5-14 year old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Northern Territory.

The seminar will highlight the need for health workers and clinicians to test for acute rheumatic fever should an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person present with the symptoms of a sore throat, fever or swollen joints, because left untreated it could lead to lifelong rheumatic heart disease.

RHDAustralia Deputy Director Claire Boardman said rheumatic heart disease is preventable yet many medical professionals in Australia have not seen a case of acute rheumatic fever because the disease has largely disappeared from urban settings.

Ms Boardman said, 'The seminar will aim to increase awareness among health workers to look out for the symptoms of acute rheumatic fever, to aim to prevent rheumatic heart disease which can lead to cardiac damage and premature death'.

The seminar will also highlight what health workers should do to manage acute rheumatic fever, which includes antibiotics at least every 28 days.

Eighteen year old Kenya McAdam will share her journey living with rheumatic heart disease. Kenya was not diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever when she was younger, even though she had a lot of sore throats, and therefore did not receive antibiotics to prevent further episodes, which resulted in life-saving heart surgery and a lifetime of rheumatic heart disease.

Kenya is lucky to be alive, however her life has changed significantly, and she cannot play sports anymore and will probably need heart surgery again in the future.

Other stories in the Northern Territory tell of children passing away as a result of rheumatic heart disease because they were not diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever.

Ms Boardman said, 'The key message of the seminar will be that early detection of acute rheumatic fever can prevent rheumatic heart disease'.

'We hope this seminar will provide valuable information resulting in better diagnosis and management of acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease by healthcare providers to prevent this potentially fatal disease,' said Ms Boardman.

Australia has among the highest recorded rate of rheumatic heart disease in the world. According to the Australian Government's Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 'in the Northern Territory in 2010, the prevalence rate of RHD among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 26 times the rate for non-Indigenous people'.

Media contact

Emmanuelle Clarke, Senior Communications Officer, phone 0408 801 640, email emmanuelle.clarke@menzies.edu.au

Event details

RHDAustralia Seminar, 5pm Tuesday 12 August, Mal Nairn Auditorium, Building Blue 7, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina

Background information

Rheumatic heart disease is caused by one or more episodes of acute rheumatic fever. These repeated episodes damage heart valves so they no longer function adequately, leading to heart failure and sometimes the need for cardiac surgery, or death. Acute rheumatic fever is caused by the body's autoimmune response to an infection with the bacterium group A streptococcus, and is commonly seen in children from Indigenous communities across northern Australia. Acute rheumatic fever occurs mainly in children aged between five and 14 years old, and affects a number of areas of the body, including the joints, brain and heart.

About RHDAustralia

RHDAustralia is the National Coordination Unit for rheumatic heart disease and aims to reduce death and disability from acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease. Funded by the Australian Government's Department of Health, RHDAustralia is based at Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin. The unit was established in 2009 as part of the National Rheumatic Fever Strategy.