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Rheumatic fever is a complex disease that affects the joints, skin, heart, blood vessels, and brain. It is an immune disease that may occur after an infection with streptococcus (strep) bacteria. Strep infections include strep throat (group A streptococcal tonsillopharyngitis) and scarlet fever. Rheumatic fever happens more often in the winter and spring. This is because strep throat infections occur more often in these seasons. Strep is contagious, but rheumatic fever is not.
Rheumatic fever is an autoimmune reaction to the strep bacteria. An immune reaction is when the body attacks its own tissues. It can be prevented if strep throat is diagnosed right away and treated with antibiotics. Rheumatic fever is not common in the U.S.
The symptoms usually start about 1 to 5 weeks after a child has been infected with strep bacteria. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. Common symptoms of rheumatic fever can include:
The symptoms of rheumatic fever can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her health care provider for a diagnosis.
The process starts with a medical history and a physical exam. Your child may also have tests such as:
Your child's healthcare provider will look for:
Treatment will depend on your child's symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Children with rheumatic fever are often treated in the hospital.
Treatment for rheumatic fever often combines the following 3 parts:
Talk with the healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.
If the illness severely attacks a child's heart, this may damage heart valves and cause heart disease. In this case, your child may be restricted from some kinds of physical activity and sports.
If the heart was damaged by the fever, he or she will need to take special care when going to the dentist in the future. He or she may need to take antibiotics before having dental work done. This helps lower the chance of an infection traveling to the heart during a dental procedure. Talk with your child's health care provider for more information.
Many cases of rheumatic fever may be prevented with the fast treatment of strep throat with antibiotics.
Having rheumatic fever increases your child's chances of having the disease again. This is at highest risk during the first 3 years. The chance of having the disease again lessens with age and time.
After having rheumatic fever, your child will need to take antibiotics every month. These are to help lessen the chance of having rheumatic fever again. Often by the time a child is 18, the antibiotic therapy may be stopped. Close follow-up with your child's healthcare provider is needed.
If your child's symptoms get worse or he or she has new symptoms, let the healthcare provider know.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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