Rheumatic fever occurs after a Group A strep throat infection goes untreated. By treating a strep throat with antibiotics before it is allowed to progress, the rheumatic fever can be easily controlled. Even when rheumatic fever does develop, regular antibiotic injections can prevent future infections and stop progression of heart damage.
Facts About Rheumatic Fever
1. At least 15.6 million people are estimated to be currently affected by rheumatic heart disease with a significant number of them requiring repeated hospitalization and, often unaffordable, heart surgery in the next five to 20 years.
2. About 233,000 people die every year because of the complications of rheumatic fever.
3. Up to 1% of the children in Asia, Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean show signs and symptoms of rheumatic heart disease.
4. 470,000. That’s the number of new cases that are expected to be diagnosed around the world in the next 12 months.
5. 19 out of every 100,000 people will be diagnosed with rheumatic fever at some point in their lives.
6. Rheumatic fever can occur at any age, although most cases occur in children 5 to 15 years of age
7. In various series of patients with endocarditis, RHD was the underlying cause in 15% to 76.6% of cases, with mortality from endocarditis ranging from 29% to 36%.
8. The cost of surgical intervention for RHD is approximately $25,000. That’s also the same cost of starting a rheumatic fever screening program in a small developing country.
9. Penicillin-based antibiotics are commonly diagnosed for rheumatic fever. Patients that have a hypersensitivity to penicillin may be treated with a first-generation cephalosporin, but as many as 5% may also be allergic to cephalosporins.
10. It may take up to 4-6 weeks for health conditions to normalize once rheumatic fever sets in.
11. In the United States, the incidence rate of rheumatic fever is as low as 1 in 50,000 people in some years.
12. During epidemics in the mid 1900s, as many as 3% of untreated acute streptococcal sore throats were followed by rheumatic fever.
13. In New Zealand, there has been a 14% decrease in first episode rheumatic fever hospitalizations since the Better Public Service rheumatic fever target was introduced in 2012. 92% of all cases of rheumatic fever affect Māori and Pacific Island children.
14. 15%. That’s the number of sore throats that are diagnosed as Group A strep throat when seen in US doctor’s offices.
15. 11 million people will be diagnosed with strep throat and although it is most common in children, adults can get the infection as well.
16. About 20% of all people have the bacteria which causes strep throat on our skin and 10% of children have them in their throats at any given time.
17. People who work in or are admitted to hospitals are at a higher risk of infection than the general public, as are children who attend a regular daycare outside of school.
Rheumatic heart disease is the most commonly acquired disease that children in the developing world contract. Most of the burden of this disease is outside of the developed world because of poverty and a lack of medical care. The heart, joints, and central nervous system are affected, but it is the fibrosis of the heart valves that is of most concern with this disease. It can be crippling, cause death, and is 100% preventable if Group A strep throat is treated.
If a child has a sore throat for more than 3-7 days, then consult with a medical professional immediately. Early treatment will stop rheumatic fever before it begins.
Rheumatic Fever Is On the Decline
Although the statistics about rheumatic fever seem grim at times, an emphasis on treating sore throats has led to a dramatic decline of this disease. Up until 1960, rheumatic fever was the leading cause of death in children and a common reason for structural heart diseases. It’s been known for many centuries, but the link between the early sore throat and then the rheumatic fever wasn’t discovered until 1880.
Anyone can develop rheumatic fever after a Group A strep throat. Fast testing options are available through most medical providers so treatment can begin on the same day. A test is needed to determine if the bacteria are present. A visual inspection cannot confirm the presence of strep throat. Complete any antibiotic course given, even if you feel better after a day or two, and rheumatic fever won’t be able to come around and bother you.