Acute rheumatic fever (ARF) is a complication which can occur after a bacterial infection, usually a throat infection, with group A streptococcus (GAS). Episodes of ARF can cause permanent damage to the heart valves, which is known as rheumatic heart disease (RHD).
ARF and RHD are not common in NSW, but are important public health issues as they cause serious illness, impact mainly children and young adults, disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and migrant communities, and are preventable diseases. In NSW, a majority of cases occur in people aged less than 25 years and about 85 % of notifications are in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and migrant communities. Higher rates of ARF and RHD also tend to be seen in women as well as in people living in regional and remote areas.
ARF is frequently under diagnosed in the community. For diagnosed patients, challenges such as lack of access to medical care and lost to follow-up increase the likelihood of recurrent episodes of ARF and progression to RHD. Treatment for people with ARF and RHD involves both the administration of preventative antibiotic therapy for a minimum of 10 years, and regular clinical review. Due to the long-term and complex nature of follow-up, NSW Health offers a Register for patients with ARF and RHD. RHD registers have been successfully used to improve the long-term follow-up of patients with ARF and RHD both interstate and overseas.