Definition

What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness that develops in some people who have strep throat. Also known as scarlatina, scarlet fever features a bright red rash that covers most of the body. Scarlet fever is almost always accompanied by a sore throat and a high fever.

Scarlet fever is most common in children 5 to 15 years of age. Although scarlet fever was once considered a serious childhood illness, antibiotic treatments have made it less threatening. Still, if left untreated, scarlet fever can result in more-serious conditions that affect the heart, kidneys and other parts of the body.

How common is scarlet fever?

It’s most common in young children, but can affect people of any age. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of scarlet fever?

The common symptoms of scarlet fever are:

  • Red rash. The rash looks like a sunburn and feels like sandpaper. It typically begins on the face or neck and spreads to the trunk, arms and legs. If pressure is applied to the reddened skin, it will turn pale.
  • Red lines. The folds of skin around the groin, armpits, elbows, knees and neck usually become a deeper red than the surrounding rash.
  • Flushed face. The face may appear flushed with a pale ring around the mouth.
  • Strawberry tongue. The tongue generally looks red and bumpy, and it’s often covered with a white coating early in the disease.

The rash and the redness in the face and tongue usually last about a week. After these signs and symptoms have subsided, the skin affected by the rash often peels. Other signs and symptoms associated with scarlet fever include:

  • Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or higher, often with chills
  • Very sore and red throat, sometimes with white or yellowish patches
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Enlarged glands in the neck (lymph nodes) that are tender to the touch
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A fever of 102 F (38.9 C) or higher
  • Swollen or tender glands in the neck
  • A red rash

Causes

What causes scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is caused by the same type of bacteria that cause strep throat. In scarlet fever, the bacteria release a toxin that produces the rash and red tongue.

The infection spreads from person to person via droplets expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The incubation period — the time between exposure and illness — is usually two to four days.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for scarlet fever?

There are many risk factors for scarlet fever, such as:

Children 5 to 15 years of age are more likely than are other people to get scarlet fever. Scarlet fever germs spread more easily among people in close contact, such as family members or classmates.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is scarlet fever diagnosed?

During the physical exam, your doctor will:

  • Look at the condition of your child’s throat, tonsils and tongue
  • Feel your child’s neck to determine if lymph nodes are enlarged
  • Assess the appearance and texture of the rash
  • Throat swab

If your doctor suspects strep is the cause of your child’s illness, he or she will also swab the tonsils and back of your child’s throat to collect material that may harbor the strep bacteria.

Tests for the strep bacteria are important because a number of conditions can cause the signs and symptoms of scarlet fever, and these illnesses may require different treatments. If there are no strep bacteria, then some other factor is causing the illness.

How is scarlet fever treated?

Your GP will prescribe antibiotic tablets (or liquid for young children) to take for five or 10 days.

You or your child should start feeling better after a day or two, but make sure you finish the whole course of treatment.

While taking antibiotics:

  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen if you’re uncomfortable or have high temperature (don’t give aspirin to children under 16)
  • Try to avoid spreading the infection

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage scarlet fever?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with scarlet fever:

  • Treat fever and pain.Use ibuprofen (Advil, Children’s Motrin, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) to control the fever and minimize throat pain.
  • Provide adequate fluids. Give your child plenty of water to keep the throat moist and prevent dehydration.
  • Prepare a saltwater gargle. If your child is able to gargle water, give him or her salty water to gargle and then spit out. This may ease the throat pain.
  • Humidify the air. Use a cool mist humidifier to eliminate dry air that may further irritate a sore throat.
  • Offer lozenges. Children older than age 4 can suck on lozenges to relieve a sore throat.
  • Provide comforting foods. Warm liquids such as soup and cold treats like ice pops can soothe a sore throat.
  • Avoid irritants. Keep your home free from cigarette smoke and cleaning products that can irritate the throat.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: June 30, 2017 | Last Modified: June 30, 2017

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