BACKGROUND: Acute rheumatic fever is a major cause of heart disease in Aboriginal Australians. The epidemiology differs from that observed in regions with temperate climates; streptococcal pharyngitis is reportedly rare, and pyoderma is highly prevalent. A link between pyoderma and acute rheumatic fever has been proposed but is yet to be proven. Group C beta-hemolytic streptococci and group G beta-hemolytic streptococci have also been also implicated in the pathogenesis. METHODS: Monthly, prospective surveillance of selected households was conducted in 3 remote Aboriginal communities. People were questioned about sore throat and pyoderma; swab specimens were obtained from all throats and any pyoderma lesions. Household population density was determined. RESULTS: From data collected during 531 household visits, the childhood incidence of sore throat was calculated to be 8 cases per 100 person-years, with no cases of symptomatic group A beta-hemolytic streptococci pharyngitis. The median point prevalence for throat carriage was 3.7% for group A beta-hemolytic streptococci, 0.7% for group C beta-hemolytic streptococci, and 5.1% for group G beta-hemolytic streptococci. Group A beta-hemolytic streptococci were recovered from the throats of 19.5% of children at some time during the study. There was no seasonal trend or correlation with overcrowding. Almost 40% of children had pyoderma at least once, and the prevalence was greatest during the dry season. In community 1, the prevalence of pyoderma correlated with household crowding. Group C and G beta-hemolytic streptococci were rarely recovered from pyoderma lesions. CONCLUSIONS: These data are consistent with the hypothesis that recurrent skin infections immunize against throat colonization and infection. High rates of acute rheumatic fever were not driven by symptomatic group A beta-hemolytic streptococci throat infection. Group G and C beta-hemolytic streptococci were found in the throat but rarely in pyoderma lesions.
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