19 June 2015

New bid to tackle rheumatic heart disease rates

Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) has joined acute rheumatic fever (ARF) in becoming a notifiable condition in Western Australia.

As of today, health professionals are required by law to report all cases of RHD.

The move is designed to strengthen the prevention, diagnosis and management of ARF and RHD-related conditions which, in Australia, are almost exclusive to Aboriginal people living in remote parts of the nation’s central and northern regions.

RHD is damage sustained by the heart valves following an episode – or recurrent episodes – of ARF. ARF is an autoimmune response to a group A streptococcal infection that can lead to inflammation affecting the joints, heart, brain and skin.

While the effects of ARF on the joints, brain and skin do resolve, damage to the heart can be permanent. Recurring episodes of ARF can compound this heart damage.

Professor Jonathon Carapetis, who chairs Western Australia’s RHD program clinical advisory group, said that requiring WA health workers to report cases of RHD was an important step in tackling a condition that was generally regarded as a third-world disease.

“Neither RHD nor ARF are infectious but mandatory reporting of both conditions will strengthen our data on them and enable us to better target our prevention and treatment programs,” Professor Carapetis said.

“It will also help to raise awareness of RHD which usually develops in childhood and adolescence.”

By introducing these new measures, Western Australia becomes the first jurisdiction in Australia to mandate the reporting of both ARF and RHD. ARF has been notifiable in Western Australia since 2007.

Professor Carapetis said he hoped other states would soon follow Western Australia’s lead on ARF and RHD.

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