Penicillin access key to RHD
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.
Telethon Kids Institute director Jonathan Carapetis in the lab with some penicillin bottles.