Be aware of acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

Read time


  • Be aware of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD)
  • Look out for common infections, such as a sore throat, sore joints, fever or skin sores

Residents of the Torres Strait, Cape York and Northern Peninsula Areas are being reminded of the need to be aware of acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

“First Nations peoples are one of the major at-risk groups for these two conditions,’’ Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Public Health Medical Officer Dr Allison Hempenstall said.

“We have already had our first case of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and our first case of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) so far this year within our health service region.

“Last year, we had 26 cases of ARF and 62 cases of RHD.

“While last year’s totals were fewer than the 36 cases of ARF and 77 cases of RHD we recorded in 2021, any cases of ARF and RHD in our region are always a matter of concern.

“Some of the factors that put individuals or communities at risk of these conditions include living in poor quality housing or overcrowded environments, as well as overall socio-economic disadvantage.

“It is important to focus community attention on acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease as these conditions are not often recognised as a big problem.’’

Dr Hempenstall said rheumatic heart disease was a disease that affected the heart and was a consequence of contracting acute rheumatic fever.

“Acute rheumatic fever is a disease caused by the Streptococcus A bacteria group (strep) and causes throat and skin infections which lead to inflammation in the joints, brain, and heart,’’ she said.

“The infection can be spread from person to person by large respiratory droplets, for example via sneezing, or direct contact with people infected by the bacteria, and can progress into rheumatic heart disease.

“If untreated, rheumatic heart disease can lead to heart failure and complications like stroke and can greatly reduce the ability to lead a normal life.

“There are several signs you can look out for when it comes to acute rheumatic fever.

“Parents need to look out for common infections that might otherwise be overlooked, such as a sore throat, sore joints, fever or skin sores because these can result in long-term heart damage.

“Once we find someone with acute rheumatic fever or rheumatic heart disease, we have very effective treatments that stop it going on to cause long-term cardiac damage such as heart failure and strokes.

“That’s why it is important to identify people with ARF so they can be treated and managed before the disease progresses into more severe stages or evolves into rheumatic heart disease.

“Once diagnosed with ARF or RHD, patients require regular scans to ensure appropriate ongoing management and it’s important that they turn up to their scheduled appointments for these scans.

“The scanning service is generally delivered via outreach from Cairns and checks may be every six months to three-yearly, depending on the stage and severity of their condition.’’

Dr Hempenstall said a state-wide action plan currently was in place to tackle acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease throughout Queensland.

Read more on Rheumatic heart disease on the Queensland Government website.