"An entirely preventable condition leaving Indigenous children with severe and
irreversible heart damage may be spread due to a reservoir of bacteria in the
throat that causes no symptoms in the host, Australian researchers have found.
It is a discovery that will likely have implications for rheumatic heart
disease (RHD) prevention and vaccine development, infectious diseases
RHD is a chronic and severe disease affecting disadvantaged areas of low- and
middle-income countries. Australia has one of the highest reported rates of RHD
in the world, where it is only found in remote Indigenous communities plagued
by social disadvantage.
In those communities, RHD overwhelmingly affects children, many of whom have
endured open-heart surgery.
RHD is caused by infection with the highly contagious group A streptococcus
bacterium, which causes the common “strep throat” and can also cause skin
infections. Most people experience strep throat as children and receive fast
treatment with antibiotics.
Yet Indigenous children living in remote communities may experience repeated,
chronic infections with strep A due to overcrowding, poverty and difficulty
accessing healthcare. These repeated, untreated infections can cause acute
rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease.
This fever can lead to the irreversible heart damage known as RHD. Without
open-heart surgery to repair or replace the damaged heart valves, clots can
form and sufferers may die from stroke or heart failure.
In a bid to understand why Australia has struggled to reduce rates of RHD,
researchers led by the Doherty Institute in Melbourne analysed the genetic
makeup of hundreds of strep A bacterial samples in a freezer, collected between
2003 and 2005 by Dr Malcolm MacDonald."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics