Rheumatic Fever Week 2019

06 Aug 2019
Rheumatic fever is easily and effectively treated by the oldest antibiotic – penicillin
06 Aug 2019

The South African Department of Health declared the first week of August Rheumatic Fever Week over twenty-five years ago, bringing long overdue recognition to this preventable condition that disproportionately impacts women and children in lower and middle-income countries, including South Africa.

Rheumatic fever is an abnormal immune reaction to a common bacterium called Group A Streptococcus. Patients typically experience a range of symptoms that can include joint pain, fever above 38°C, generally feeling unwell, shortness of breath, a skin rash and, on rarer occasions, uncontrolled body movements. Rheumatic fever is preceded two or three weeks earlier by a bacterial throat infection, commonly called strep throat.

A single episode or repeated episodes of rheumatic fever can cause damage to heart valves. Left untreated, RHD will eventually result in further heart valve damage, stroke, heart failure, and even premature death. The disease requires life-long medication, medical surveillance and often heart valve replacement surgery.

Significantly however, rheumatic fever can be completely prevented by the oldest antibiotic available – penicillin. Professor Liesl Zühlke, a Paediatric Cardiologist and Director of the CHDRU, further explains;

“Effective preventive treatment is both available and cost-effective. It requires that a child with a suspected throat infection is taken to a doctor or clinic, and for a nurse or doctor to correctly diagnose and treat a streptococcal infection.”

Raising awareness about this often neglected condition is therefore crucial to preventing its continued persistence. On the local level, school teachers and other caregivers can make a difference by simply looking out for a sore throat and by educating parents and children about the ill-effects of a sore throat if left untreated. A sore throat in the absence of a cold or flu could possibly be a strep throat, which can cause rheumatic fever. A child should be taken to the doctor or clinic if strep throat is suspected.

Strep throat usually presents with throat pain or pain on swallowing, fever higher than 38°C and feeling unwell with headache, nausea, vomiting or weakness. Inside the throat the tonsils may be red, swollen or have white pus on them. With the following three actions, everyone can help to reduce strep throat infections:
1. Seek medical advice for a sore throat.
2. A child with strep throat should stay away from school to avoid spreading the infection to other children.
3. Teach children good hygiene to prevent the spread of germs.

Do your part to help raise awareness this Rheumatic Fever Week by downloading and sharing these infographics;

This news piece was adapted from a press release developed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, the South African Heart Association and the Department of Paediatric Cardiology, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, UCT.