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Acute rheumatic fever is caused by an autoimmune response to throat infection with Streptococcus pyogenes. Cardiac involvement during acute rheumatic fever can result in rheumatic heart disease, which can cause heart failure and premature mortality. Poverty and household overcrowding are associated with an increased prevalence of acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, both of which remain a public health problem in many low-income countries. Control efforts are hampered by the scarcity of accurate data on disease burden, and effective approaches to diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. The diagnosis of acute rheumatic fever is entirely clinical, without any laboratory gold standard, and no treatments have been shown to reduce progression to rheumatic heart disease. Prevention mainly relies on the prompt recognition and treatment of streptococcal pharyngitis, and avoidance of recurrent infection using long-term antibiotics. But evidence for the effectiveness of either approach is not strong. High-quality research is urgently needed to guide efforts to reduce acute rheumatic fever incidence and prevent progression to rheumatic heart disease.