What is rheumatic fever (RF)?
It’s a fever that results as a complication of inadequately treated strep throat or scarlet fever, infections caused by the bacteria streptococci A. RF mainly affects the heart, joints, skin, and brain.
Why does RF affect body organs?
When the bacteria enter the body, the immune system reacts and produces antibodies to fight the bacteria. But because some protein in the bacteria is similar to body tissue, the antibodies end up attacking the bacteria as well as the body’s own organs. These attacks often damage the heart valves, joints, brain and skin; recurrent attacks lead to long-term damage of the body’s organs. In the heart, they can result in rheumatic heart disease (RHD).
Who is commonly affected?
Children between 5-15 years are most commonly affected, although adults and older children can also get RF.
What are the risk factors?
- Family history: a person with a family history of RF has a greater chance of developing the fever.
- Type of streptococcus bacteria: certain types of bacteria are more likely to cause RF than others.
- Environment: overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of clean water, and the absence of a good healthcare management system increase the risk of RF.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms usually appear 1-6 weeks after the infection. A patient may not necessarily have all of the symptoms below.
- High fever/sore throat/throat pain
- Joint pains, which usually spread from one joint to another
- Small bumps, called nodules, seen under the skin
- Raised red rashes on the back, stomach and chest
- Increased tiredness and difficulty breathing
- Outbursts of crying or laughter during attacks of fever
- Uncontrollable movements of the face, hands and feet during attacks of fever
- Loss of appetite/weight loss
- Vomiting/stomach pain
I have some of these symptoms. What tests and appointments should I make with my doctor?
- Detailed physical examination
- Blood tests
- Chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG), and echocardiogram (echo)
What is the treatment?
Penicillin injection remains the treatment of choice for RF.
Have questions? Have a disease, treatment, or medical topic you’d like to learn about? Comment on this post to let us know. And stay tuned to our blog for a second post about rheumatic fever, coming soon!