About the Disease
Acute rheumatic fever is an illness following an autoimmune response to a group A streptococcus, or ‘Strep A’ infection. Strep A bacteria can cause infection in various parts of the body, including the throat (strep throat) and skin (skin sores, pyoderma, impetigo). For some people with these Strep A infections, the body’s immune system gets confused when reacting to the infection, and the result is a generalised inflammatory illness called acute rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is a serious disease of the heart involving damage to one or more of the four small heart valves. The valve damage can remain after acute rheumatic fever. During rheumatic fever the heart valve tissue, and sometimes other parts of the heart (the heart lining or muscle) can become swollen, and this is called carditis. Following carditis, the heart valves can remain damaged then become scarred, and the result is an interruption to normal blood flow through the damaged valves. When the heart is damaged in this way, the heart valve is not able to function adequately, and this is called rheumatic heart disease.