Rheumatic fever is an exceedingly variable disease and affects the joints, the heart and other parts of the body.
The common age incidence is between 5 and 14 years. It is considered a reaction of the body to a streptococcal infection of the throat which has been inadequately treated, or not treated at all.
The child has fever, pain or swelling in the joints which may be mild or severe. The pain and swelling travels from one joint to the other, and lasts 2-3 days. The usual joints affected are wrists, elbows, knees and ankles.
The seriousness of the disease lies in the fact that it may affect the heart, in which case the child looks very ill and pale, has a rapid pulse and also breathes rapidly. He may develop puffiness in the face and swelling in his body.
On the other hand the disease may be mild, passed off as aches and pains, but even a mild attack can affect the heart, which may be discovered later in a routine examination because of a murmur in the heart.
Any child who has pain in the joints, slight fever and tiredness, should be examined to make sure about rheumatic fever.
Once the heart is affected, treatment is long and protracted and the child has to be under the careful observation of a paediatrician or a cardiologist. The attacks of rheumatic fever tend to recur, and may endanger the heart further, or the heart may get affected in a subsequent attack even if it was not affected earlier.
Recurrence of rheumatic fever can be prevented by giving the child an injection of a special type of penicillin, once a month for several years. This will naturally have to be done under the supervision of a doctor.
Adequate treatment of tonsillitis will prevent rheumatic fever and therefore it is a preventable disease.
A child with rheumatic fever needs a prolonged period of rest. Every effort must be made to keep him cheerful and well occupied.