Rheumatic fever is caused due to a throat infection by the group A streptococcus bacteria, which manifests itself as a strep throat or scarlet fever. Usually, the indications show up about five weeks after a streptococcal infection of the throat is left untreated. However, most streptococcal throat infections do not result in rheumatic fever. As a matter of fact, only a small percentage of cases of untreated throat infection actually develop into rheumatic fever.
It is, in fact, an acute inflammatory condition which can affect various parts of the body, such as the joints, heart, skin, and the nervous system. It usually afflicts children between 6 - 15 years of age, although it can develop at any age. Females are twice as susceptible to the disease as compared to males. In many of the cases, it has been seen that this inflammatory disorder affects the valves of the heart, known as rheumatic carditis, which hampers the normal flow of blood through the heart. However, prompt treatment of a streptococcal throat infection, using antibiotics, can prevent the fever from occurring.
This disease is not as prevalent in the US these days, as it used to be prior to the widespread use of penicillin in the early part of the 20th century. However, outbreaks do take place occasionally, and it still occurs quite commonly in developing countries.
Indications of Rheumatic Fever
Although the symptoms may differ according to each child, here are some of the most common indications of this condition:
- Inflammation of the joints, which includes redness, tenderness, and swelling. Usually, the larger joints like the ankles or the knees are affected, and the inflammation shifts from one joint to the next over a number of days.
- Round, hard bumps or nodules occur under the skin.
- A change in the neuromuscular movements of the child, which can manifest itself as jerky movements or the handwriting of the child being affected.
- A pink colored rash with unusual edges, which usually occur on the legs and arms, or the trunk.
- Loss of weight.
- Pain in the stomach
As has been mentioned above, it is children who are at high risk of developing this fever, especially if they are susceptible to frequent bouts of streptococcal throat infections. Children who have a family history of rheumatic fever are also at high risk of getting the disease. Since streptococcal throat infections generally occur in the spring and winter, there are higher incidences of the disease during these seasons. Although a streptococcal throat infection is contagious, rheumatic fever is not. It is a development of the streptococcal infection when not treated promptly.
Generally, a combination of the three approaches is used to treat the condition.
Treating the Streptococcal Infection: The immediate aim has to be using antibiotics to treat the infection, which is done despite the throat culture turning out to be negative. After the initial treatment, monthly antibiotic doses may have to be continued in order to help in preventing further complications.
Medications to Treat the Inflammation: Medications may be prescribed to help in relieving the pain in the joints, as well as reduce the swelling in the heart muscle.
Adequate Bed Rest: The physician will prescribe the length of bed rest required according to the severity of the disease, which can be from 2 - 12 weeks.