The Department of Health of South Africa declared the first week of August Rheumatic Fever Week more than 25 years ago, bringing long overdue recognition to this preventable condition which disproportionately affects women and children in lower and middle-income countries such as South Africa. This year, Rheumatic Fever Week is being observed from 3 through 9 August with the intention of raising awareness of rheumatic fever (RF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) throughout the country.
Given the current pandemic, it is likely now more so than ever that sore throats and acute episodes of RF will be overlooked, misdiagnosed or else not diagnosed at all. We are, therefore, taking this opportunity to once again bring attention to the signs and symproms of RF and caution that a sore throat should never be ignored.
What is rheumatic fever?
Rheumatic Fever itself is an abnormal immune reaction against a common bacterium called Group A Streptococcus. Patients typically experience a range of symptoms that can include joint pain, fever above 38°C, feeling generally unwell and tired with shortness of breath, sometimes a skin rash, and uncontrolled body movements. Rheumatic Fever is preceded two or three weeks earlier by a bacterial throat infection, commonly called strep throat.
Don't ignore a sore throat!
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:
Seek medical advice for a sore throat
A child with strep throat should stay away from school to avoid spreading the infection to other children.
Teach children good hygiene to prevent the spread of germs.
How can rheumatic fever be treated or cured?
Rheumatic fever can be completely prevented by the oldest antibiotic available – penicillin. Professor Liesl Zühlke, a Paediatric Cardiologist and President of the South African Heart Association, 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”.
Want to know more? Check out this article for all you need to know about rheumatic fever.
This news piece was adapted from an article published by the South Coast Herald on August 10, 2018. Read the full article here.