Editorial comment – On the lookout for RHD

SOMETIMES we tend to ignore issues that are staring at us in the face.

There is an element of complacency that sticks like glue.

It overcomes any thought of vigilance and does have a tendency to land us in trouble sometimes.

At this time last year, we wrote a report about Dylan Isireli who remembered a sense of loss and uncertainty when he looked back at his journey living with rheumatic heart disease (RHD).

He remembered getting very sick as a child with fever and a very sore throat before he was diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever and started receiving benza injections every three weeks.

He was admitted to hospital for tests and was told that he had to take these injections for a long time.

Doctors advised him to stop playing contact sports.

It was tough because he loved playing rugby at the time.

He had to take monthly benzathine penicillin, commonly known as benza, injections.

The treatment is designed to fight off the group A streptococcus bacteria that started off the cascade of events leading to acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease, and also prevented further heart valve damage.

But what is rheumatic heart disease?

The RHD Global Status Report 2015-17 says it is a preventable disease that affects children and young people.

While it has been eliminated in wealthy countries, it seems RHD is still common in Africa, Asia, and the Latin American and Pacific regions.

Thirty-two million people, the report suggests, around the world suffer from the condition which kills 275,000 people a year and is the most common acquired heart disease among children and young people in developing countries.

Many Fijians got to know about the disease when Fiji Warriors tighthead prop Iosefo Bele Tabalala died two days before the final of the World Rugby Pacific Challenge in Suva in 2015.

Post-mortem examination results confirmed he died as a result of severe valvular heart disease.

A medical report stated this was caused by rheumatic heart disease.

While rheumatic heart disease can affect a person’s life expectancy, the World Heart Federation says it can be prevented and controlled.

It says rheumatic fever is caused by a preceding group A streptococcal (strep) infection.

Treating strep throat with antibiotics can prevent rheumatic fever.

Regular antibiotics (usually monthly injections), it says, can prevent patients with rheumatic fever from contracting further strep infections and causing progression of valve damage.

There is a beacon of hope for families.

As parents and guardians, we have a challenge though to be vigilant and proactive.

Let’s understand the disease, take precautions and refer loved ones with sore throats to the doctor as soon as possible.

Early detection could provide a positive beat.

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