Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is the largest cardiac cause of morbidity and mortality in the world's youth. Early detection of RHD through echocardiographic screening in asymptomatic children may identify an early stage of disease, when secondary prophylaxis has the greatest chance of stopping disease progression. Latent RHD signifies echocardiographic evidence of RHD with no known history of acute rheumatic fever and no clinical symptoms.
OBJECTIVE: Determine the prevalence of latent RHD among children ages 5-16 in Lilongwe, Malawi.
DESIGN: This is a cross-sectional study in which children ages 5 through 16 were screened for RHD using echocardiography.
SETTING: Screening was conducted in 3 schools and surrounding communities in the Lilongwe district of Malawi between February and April 2014.
OUTCOME MEASURES: Children were diagnosed as having no, borderline, or definite RHD as defined by World Heart Federation criteria. The primary reader completed offline reads of all studies. A second reader reviewed all of the studies diagnosed as RHD, plus a selection of normal studies. A third reader served as tiebreaker for discordant diagnoses. The distribution of results was compared between gender, location, and age categories using Fisher's exact test.
RESULTS: The prevalence of latent RHD was 3.4% (95% CI = 2.45, 4.31), with 0.7% definite RHD and 2.7% borderline RHD. There was no significant differences in prevalence between gender (P = .44), site (P = .6), urban vs. peri-urban (P = .75), or age (P = .79). Of those with definite RHD, all were diagnosed because of pathologic mitral regurgitation (MR) and 2 morphologic features of the mitral valve. Of those with borderline RHD, most met the criteria by having pathological MR (92.3%).
CONCLUSION: Malawi has a high rate of latent RHD, which is consistent with other results from sub-Saharan Africa. This study strongly supports the need for a RHD prevention and control program in Malawi.