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Diagnosing Strep Key to Curbing Rheumatic Heart Disease
Date:2/26/2009

Untreated, one throat strain can lead to damaging fever, physicians warn

THURSDAY, Feb. 26 (HealthDay News) -- The best way to prevent the developing world incidence of rheumatic fever and the heart disease it can cause is through accurate diagnosis and thorough treatment of strep throat, according to an American Heart Association scientific statement.

While generally rare in the United States, rheumatic fever and subsequent rheumatic heart disease is the leading cause of cardiovascular death in people under age 50 in developing nations. The inflammatory disease, which can affect connective tissues in the skin, joints and brain, and possibly cause irreversible heart damage, briefly resurfaced in localized U.S. civilian and military populations in the 1980s.

"This reappearance of acute rheumatic fever reminds physicians, parents and others about the importance of continued attention to prevention of rheumatic fever in the United States and in other developed countries," Dr. Michael A. Gerber, lead author of the scientific statement, said in a heart association news release.

The statement, published in Circulation, updates one issued 14 years ago and cites swabbing the back of the throat to obtain a culture and good clinical judgment as the best ways to diagnose strep throat.

One particular strain of strep throat, known as group A a-hemolytic streptococcus, or GAS pharyngitis, can develop into rheumatic fever if not properly treated with antibiotics.

"It's important to know that, while strep throat is most common in children five to 15 years old, most sore throats in this age group are not caused by this particular type of strep," said Gerber, a professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. "In fact, most are caused by viruses, which do not raise the risk of rheumatic fever and are not treatable with anti
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