What is Rheumatic fever?
Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease caused by a particular strain of the bacteria called streptococcus, usually in the throat. It can affect many of the body's connective tissues especially those of the heart, joints, brain or skin. Anyone can get acute rheumatic fever, but it usually occurs in children five to 15 years old. The rheumatic heart disease that results can last for life.
Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which the heart muscle or valves are damaged by products of the bacteria, which cause rheumatic fever. Symptoms vary greatly. Often the damage to heart valves isn't immediately noticeable. A damaged heart valve either doesn't fully close or doesn't fully open. Eventually, damaged heart valves can cause serious, even disabling, problems. These problems depend on how bad the damage is and which heart valve is affected. The most advanced condition is congestive heart failure. This is a heart disease in which the heart enlarges and can't pump out all its blood.
The best defence against rheumatic heart disease is to prevent rheumatic fever from ever occurring. By treating "strep" throat with penicillin or other antibiotics, doctors can usually prevent infection developing in heart valves.
People who've already had rheumatic fever are more susceptible to repeat episodes and heart damage. That's why they're given monthly or daily antibiotic treatment, maybe for life.
If their heart has been damaged by rheumatic fever, they're also given a different antibiotic when they undergo dental or surgical procedures. This helps prevent bacterial endocarditis, a dangerous infection of the heart's lining or valves.