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Circulation. 2009 Aug 25;120(8):709-13. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.836510. Epub 2009 Aug 10.

Is primary prevention of rheumatic fever the missing link in the control of rheumatic heart disease in Africa?

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  • 1Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Abstract

Rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease continue to be major public health problems in the developing world, particularly in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Because of its cost effectiveness, secondary prophylaxis is advocated as the principal means of disease prevention and control. However, in developing countries, valvular damage, due to earlier, unrecognized episodes of rheumatic fever, has already occurred by the time secondary prophylaxis is instituted. Secondary prophylaxis cannot reduce the incidence of new cases of rheumatic fever and has not been shown to alter the natural history of rheumatic valvular disease. Experience from several regions of the world suggests that incorporation of a strategy of primary antibiotic prophylaxis into a comprehensive program for disease control can reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease. In this article, we argue that a strategy of primary antibiotic prophylaxis, with appropriate modifications, can be successfully implemented in resource-poor settings across the world and should be a key component of any rheumatic heart disease control program. This, we believe, is essential for reducing the global burden of rheumatic heart disease.

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