Rheumatic heart disease

Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is chronic damage to the valves of the heart, caused by repeated episodes of acute rheumatic fever (ARF). ARF is caused by an auto-immune reaction to an infection with the bacterium group A streptococcus (GAS).

Page last updated: 29 May 2017

While ARF is rare in industrialised countries, it remains a significant cause of disease in Australia among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Poor living conditions make streptococcal infections and therefore ARF, more likely. Known risk factors include poverty, overcrowding and limited access to medical care for diagnosis and treatment. Prevalence of RHD is also high among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

To address the high rates of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) among Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the Australian Government is funding the Rheumatic Fever Strategy.

The Rheumatic Fever Strategy includes:

  • state-based register and control programs in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland, to improve detection, monitoring and management of ARF and RHD;
  • national education and training resources; and
  • a data collection system.

The Evaluation of the Rheumatic Fever Strategy – Final Report was released in May 2017. Findings from the evaluation helped inform the Australian Government’s decisions on the continued funding and expansion of the RFS, announced through the 2017-18 Budget, which included new funding for prevention activities in high-risk communities. See Budget 2017 fact sheet 38.