Acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

Acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) are preventable health problems that affect many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities [45046][41853].

ARF is a sickness caused by a group A streptococcus, also known as strep A, infection [45046]. The strep A germ is a common cause of sore throats and skin sores. In some children and adults, ‘strep throat’ can cause sickness in other parts of the body, such as joints, skin, heart and the brain. This is known as acute rheumatic fever or ARF. Young people aged 5-14 years have the highest risk of getting ARF [46336][39666][45732].

Every time a person has ARF, it can cause more damage to the heart valves. Therefore, having ARF often can cause long-term damage [45046]. Heart valves are like doors; they allow blood to flow in the right direction. However, if they are damaged it can make the heart weak and blood cannot flow around the body properly. This damage is known as rheumatic heart disease (RHD) and people who get RHD can end up very sick [41853].

ARF and RHD are health conditions that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people get [39666][41853]. Nearly all people who are recorded as having ARF or RHD in Australia are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. The rates of ARF and RHD in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Northern and Central Australia are among the highest reported in the world [39666][45046][45732].

ARF and RHD are also diseases often caused by social disadvantage [45046]. They can be controlled through improved living conditions, reduced overcrowding, access to health care, and antibiotics. Researchers, governments, peak bodies and advocacy groups are working together to try and eliminate RHD in Australia. The End Rheumatic Heart Disease Centre of Research Excellence, through the Telethon Kids Institute, developed The RHD Endgame Strategy: the blueprint to eliminate rheumatic heart disease in Australia by 2031. Since 2022, RHD efforts are coordinated by the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).


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Ceremonial Grounds by Jimmy Njamme Tjampitjin

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