Rheumatic fever is an illness caused by a particular type of germ called beta-haemolytic streptococcus. It is the same germ that can cause a really sore throat.
What is rheumatic fever?
It is a slightly strange condition, which is caused by your immune system overreacting to a germ (a bacterium). It starts with a bad throat infection (what some people call 'Strep throat'). A few weeks later you get sore joints: it could be your knees, elbows or wrists. The soreness comes and goes.
Why can it become a problem then?
The initial effects of rheumatic fever aren't in themselves too harmful. The problem is, the illness can involve your heart. The covering of the heart (the pericardium) can get inflamed, and the valves inside your heart that make the blood flow in the right direction can get damaged.
Occasionally the illness can make you have very weird jerky movements called chorea.
Who gets it?
Rheumatic fever is very rare in the developed world these days. Most doctors in the UK will never have seen a case. But if you're reading this in India, Africa, rural Australia or rural New Zealand then the chances are your doctor has dealt with it. It usually comes on in teenagers, with a slight weighting towards girls.
Further reading and references
Patient-friendly guide to rheumatic fever; Mayo Clinic
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