More than 10,000 Australians are diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease, or RHD, a condition where their heart valves are permanently damaged after repeated Streptococcal infection.
It disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.
Mathematician, Dr Rebecca Chisholm, investigates the transmission and control of infectious diseases, with a particular focus on RHD.
“There are factors, such as household overcrowding, that are associated with increased risk of Streptococcal infection. It is thought that strategies targeting these factors will be necessary for RHD control, but their effects have not been quantified,” says Dr Chisholm.
She and her team are using computational and mathematical models, in conjunction with epidemiological and genomic data, to understand how Streptococcus spreads, and to inform decisions about controlling its spread.
They have analysed the impact of a range of strategies including house building, health promotion and maintaining health hardware in homes on the spread of Streptococcus.
“Our study is providing an evidence base to support decision making and advocacy,” Dr Chisholm says.
In consultation with public health and community partners, the research team are now formulating an evidence-based blueprint for strategies that are likely to succeed at reducing the burden of RHD in Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.
“RHD is a preventable disease, yet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children remain hugely affected,” Dr Chisholm adds. “Preventing Streptococcal infection, and the subsequent development of RHD, will help improve health outcomes for these children.”
Find out more about the Department of Mathematics and Statistics on their website.