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Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory autoimmune disease where antibodies to staphylococcus attack the body's connective tissues in the major joints and the heart. It is a common secondary complication to strep throat or scarlet fever. Once very common, it has become much rarer since the advent of antibiotics. However, patients usually require lifelong prophylactic treatment as a second staphylococcus infection will usually result in death. It has been an occasional differential diagnosis on the series.
Rheumatic fever can occur when the original infection is asymptomatic. It is difficult to diagnose, requiring a confiration of a staphylococcus infection unless it has already presented with chorea or severe heart inflammation.
The disease almost always affects children from the age of 6-15. Only 20% of cases develop in adults.
Rheumatic fever is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment as it can be fatal in and of itself. Persons who recover may develop the condition again if they develop a second infection and usually have to be on a monthly regimen of antibiotics for life, steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as aspirin.
Rheumatic fever is a common cause of damage to heart valves.