Rheumatic Heart Disease: All But Forgotten





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Published on Jan 15, 2014

If left untreated, recurrent episodes of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) lead to rheumatic heart disease (RHD), which in turn causes long term damage to the heart valves requiring major surgery. Although all but forgotten in the wider Australian community, this disease is more than eight times more likely to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples than non-Indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are nearly 20 times more likely to die from ARF and RHD. ARF is a preventable illness caused by a reaction to a bacterial infection which often causes great pain and distress and can also acutely affect the joints, brain and skin. ARF can result in lasting damage to the heart (RHD) and can cause life-long disability and premature death.

Improved living conditions and sanitation practices have seen RHD virtually disappear from mainstream Australia. However, in the past decade alarmingly high rates of previously undiagnosed RHD have been found in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, across northern and central Australia in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia.

Aboriginal people living in the Top End of the Northern Territory have recorded the highest incidence of ARF in the world. RHD also remains active in the Pacific and in Africa, and there is a need to be vigilant among these immigrant population groups resident in Australia.

This program raises the awareness of health professionals to population groups within Australia at risk of RHD, and examines strategies developed jointly by the National Heart Foundation and the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand for best practice to address the treatment, control and eradication of ARF and RHD.

Produced by the Rural Health Education Foundation

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