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Outcomes of possible and probable rheumatic fever: A cohort study using northern Australian register data, 2013-2019

PLOS Glob Public Health. 2024 Jan 3;4(1):e0002064. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgph.0002064. eCollection 2024.


In Australia, there is a high burden of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Clinical diagnostic criteria can result in a diagnosis of ‘definite’, ‘probable’ or ‘possible’ ARF and outcomes range from recovery to severe rheumatic heart disease (RHD). We compared outcomes by ARF diagnosis, where the main outcome was defined as disease progression from: possible to probable ARF, definite ARF or RHD; probable to definite ARF or RHD; or definite ARF to definite ARF recurrence or RHD. Data were extracted from the Northern Territory RHD register for Indigenous Australians with an initial diagnosis of ARF during the 5.5-year study period (01/01/2013-30/06/2019). Descriptive statistics were used to describe cohort characteristics, probability of survival, and cumulative incidence risk of disease progression. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to determine whether time to disease progression differed according to ARF diagnosis. Sub-analyses on RHD outcome, clinical manifestations, and antibiotic adherence were also performed. In total there were 913 cases with an initial ARF diagnosis. Of these, 92 (13%) experienced disease progression. The probability of disease progression significantly differed between ARF diagnoses (p = 0.0043; log rank test). Cumulative incidence risk of disease progression at 5.5 years was 33.6% (95% CI 23.6-46.2) for definite, 13.5% (95% CI 8.8-20.6) for probable and 11.4% (95% CI 6.0-21.3) for possible ARF. Disease progression was 2.19 times more likely in those with definite ARF than those with possible ARF (p = 0.026). Progression to RHD was reported in 52/732 (7%) of ARF cases with normal baseline echocardiography. There was a significantly higher risk of progression from no RHD to RHD if the initial diagnosis was definite compared to possible ARF (p<0.001). These data provide a useful way to stratify risk and guide prognosis for people diagnosed with ARF and can help inform practice.

PMID:38170692 | DOI:10.1371/journal.pgph.0002064

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