Rheumatic Fever (cont.)

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How is rheumatic fever diagnosed?

The person must have a history of an infection with group A streptococcal bacteria, either by laboratory documentation (a positive rapid strep test) or positive strep culture, and must have two major or one major and two minor Jones criteria findings.

How is rheumatic fever treated?

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The first step in treating rheumatic fever is to eradicate the bacteria which initially caused the immunologic response. This is usually accomplished with the use of penicillin. For penicillin-allergic patients, there are other options such as erythromycin (E-Mycin, Eryc, Ery-Tab, PCE, Pediazole, Ilosone) or azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax). It is important to make sure that the acute infection is treated, but such treatment won't necessarily change the course of rheumatic fever once the immunologic response has begun.. Your doctor will decide on the best treatment option for you. The joint pains are treated with aspirin or aspirin-related medications. It may be necessary to use very high doses to decrease the symptoms.

Carditis is treated by high-dose steroids but other cardiac medications may be needed to control the inflammation of the heart. This is a serious condition and is most often initially managed in an acute-care setting such as a hospital.

The most difficult and unpredictable symptom to treat is the chorea (involuntary movements). It often responds to antipsychotic medications such as haloperidol (Haldol) but may continue for a protracted period. For patients who develop Sydenham's chorea, it can be the most difficult of the symptoms, since it involves involuntary movements and can interfere with daily activities. These individuals must remain on chronic long-term antibiotics to prevent recurrence of the strep infection, which has been known to cause recurrence of the chorea.


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