Rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever is an infection that mainly affects the young – it usually starts with a sore throat, then after a few weeks develops into painful or swollen joints such as knees and elbows, high temperatures and occasionally a skin rash or stomach pain may occur as well. 

If not treated this infection may spread to the heart, and may affect the valves that regulate the flow of blood in the heart and around the body, resulting in a condition called rheumatic heart disease.

The early signs of rheumatic fever generally go away, but the heart damage is permanent, resulting in tiredness from poor blood supply to the body and may worsen into further damage to the muscles of the heart and heart failure.

In New Zealand we have a high rate of rheumatic heart disease compared to other countries, and many of our children have poor health as a result of this. This can affect the quality of their life if not treated promptly and effectively.

Early treatment of any sore throat in a child is the best way to prevent a strep or sore throat developing into rheumatic fever.  If a child you know has a sore throat ensure that they go to the doctor, get their throat checked out, and ensure that any prescriptions for antibiotics are dispensed at the pharmacy and that the child takes the entire course of antibiotics to ensure that rheumatic fever does not result because the sore throat wasn’t treated.

If someone has had rheumatic fever, then any sign of infection must be treated and often children that have had rheumatic fever need to take antibiotics for several months in order to prevent any or more damage to their heart.

Some people that have had rheumatic fever require regular antibiotic injections – it is vital that these occur regularly whenever they are scheduled, they need to be given on time, every time.

If a child or young person you know has a sore throat, or if you have any questions about rheumatic fever, consult your community pharmacist – they will be able to advise you of the best treatment options and refer you to the correct assistance you may need to prevent the complications of sore throats and prevent the complications of rheumatic fever.