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Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease Awareness

Each year the first week of August is dedicated to highlighting and raising awareness in South Africa about this entirely preventable disease which causes unnecessary death and suffering amongst the poorest communities in our country.

This Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease Awareness Week, we call on health leaders in South Africa to pay attention to the devastation that the disease continues to inflict.

Rheumatic Fever is an inflammatory disorder that affects the connective tissue of the body causing temporary painful arthritis and other symptoms.  In some cases, Rheumatic Fever causes long-term damage to the heart and its valves; this is called Rheumatic Heart Disease.

Rheumatic Fever is caused by a rare strain of strep throat that either doesn’t get treated by antibiotics quickly enough or at all.  Doctors still aren’t sure why this particular strain of strep triggers this inflammatory disorder, but it could be that antibodies in the blood mistakenly attack healthy cells (such as the heart muscle, valve cells and joint, brain and skin tissue), causing a reaction that results in inflammation.

Globally, as many as 34 million people suffer from Rheumatic Heart Disease and up to 319,400 people die prematurely each year.  It remains a leading cause of early death in countries with less developed healthcare systems and experts urge parents to never ignore a sore throat.

Signs and symptoms of Rheumatic Fever:

  • Chest pain;
  • Sore throat;
  • A splotchy looking rash that does not itch;
  • Fever;
  • Tiny hard lumps under the skin;
  • Chorea (involuntary movement of the extremities).

Rheumatic Fever can cause:

  • Carditis; inflammation of the heart muscle and tissue.  Carditis causes a rapid heart rate, fatigue, shortness of breath and exercise intolerance.  This is the most serious of all the symptoms (Rheumatic Fever causes Carditis in 50% of sufferers) and may have long-term effects on health.
  • Arthritis; swelling, redness and pain in the joints, especially knees, ankles, elbows and wrists (Rheumatic Fever causes Arthritis in 70% of sufferers.)
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