Peni­cillin ac­cess key to RHD

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Health - By DENISE S CAHILL

CHIL­DREN with rheumatic heart dis­ease (RHD) need an in­jec­tion of peni­cillin ev­ery four weeks for at least 10 years to keep the dis­ease sta­ble.

How­ever, the pain, fear of nee­dles or a lack of ac­cess to med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties of­ten means suf­fer­ers do not re­ceive the in­jec­tions, re­sult­ing in fur­ther dam­age to their heart.

Pro­fes­sor Jonathan Cara­petis, of Ned­lands, and his team of 21 re­searchers at the Telethon Kids In­sti­tute are try­ing to re­duce this out­come.

“Our aim is for ev­ery­one to get 80 per cent of their in­jec­tions ev­ery year,” Pro­fes­sor Cara­petis said.

“In Aus­tralia, less than a third achieves that.

“We’re try­ing to make sure peo­ple can get their in­jec­tions and re­duce the pain.

“Ide­ally, we also want a bet­ter form of long-act­ing peni­cillin, or per­haps even an im­plant, but it’s only early days.”

RHD is caused by rheumatic fever, which in turn is caused by an ab­nor­mal im­mune re­ac­tion to a bac­te­rial group A strep­to­coc­cal in­fec­tion of the throat, known as strep throat, or the skin.

Re­cur­ring in­fec­tions lead to fur­ther episodes of rheumatic fever dur­ing child­hood and ado­les­cence that can dam­age the valves in the heart, lead­ing to RHD, which oc­curs at record rates in Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties.

Pro­fes­sor Cara­petis said young Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties were of­ten ex­posed to the strep throat bug be­cause of their over­crowded liv­ing con­di­tions and other en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors that lead to high lev­els of in­fec­tions.

He has been work­ing to erad­i­cate RHD for the past 25 years, first in Dar­win and now in Perth, which has emerged over the past five years as the leader in RHD re­search.

“We’re part of a big­ger part­ner­ship across the coun­try and linked to in­ter­na­tional net­works,” he said.

“Around the coun­try, we’ve got more than 100 peo­ple ac­tively work­ing on RHD.”

Na­tional Heart Week runs un­til May 6.

Pic­ture: An­drew Ritchie­mu­ni­ d467810

Telethon Kids In­sti­tute di­rec­tor Jonathan Cara­petis in the lab with some peni­cillin bot­tles.

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